Tourism spending in Madison dropped more than 62% in 2020

MADISON, Wis. — It’s no secret that the pandemic has caused economic hardships for businesses nationwide, but new data show just how devastating the pandemic has been for Madison’s tourism industry.

The data was released by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism on Friday.

According to the new data highlighted by Destination Madison, visitor spending in Dane County dropped nearly 43% last year compared to the $1.4 billion the county saw in 2019. In downtown Madison, spending fell from more than $300 million in 2019 to just over $100 million. That’s a drop of more than 62%, which is more than double the state average.

Spending at downtown lodging businesses plunged 78%, spending at restaurants and bars fell 58%, and retail spending fell 50%.

“These numbers are a hard truth. Dane County tourism was devastated in 2020. Thousands of people in our community, the backbone of our hospitality industry, bore the brunt of a very difficult year,” said Destination Madison President & CEO Ellie Westman Chin. “For the first time in the 49 years our organization has been leading regional hospitality efforts, Dane County has fallen from being the second biggest generator of tourism revenue for the state. We have our work cut out for us to help the greater Madison area rise back to that level.”

Throughout 2020, more than 6,700 people who worked in the hospitality industry lost their jobs. That’s more than 30% of local hospitality workers. Roughly 2,000 of those people worked in downtown Madison.

Data shows tax revenue from tourism spending dropped by 33%, which comes out to more than $57 million.

On an annual basis, Dane County typically accounts for 10% of all tourism spending in the state, but in 2020, Dane County took on 15% of the state’s losses in the industry, more than any other county.

“The hardest part of seeing these numbers is knowing how many thousands of local people are affected by this loss. We know the money visitors bring to Dane County finds its way into businesses they never visit, feeds children they never meet and supports non-profits whose services they never need,” said Destination Madison Board Chair Rob Crain, Director of Business Marketing and Engagement for Madison Gas and Electric. “The effects of the pandemic are by no means over, and many hospitality businesses are still suffering tremendously.”