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Tourism jobs provide pathway to prosperity

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Stephanie Klett & Manuel Perez
May 9, 2011

Later this year, ground will be broken for a new Marriott Hotel in downtown Milwaukee. When the new hotel opens, it will employ between 175 and 200 full-time people.


What kind of career path can people in the hospitality industry expect to take? According to the Marriott’s website, “Keep your options open, be flexible about your first role within the industry, and be willing to learn new skills. By staying open to all opportunities to get your foot in the door, you’ll gain experience in hospitality and will be able to demonstrate an understanding of how the business works.”


In other words—the opportunities are limitless.


National Tourism Week is this month, and we thought we’d drill the discussion down to a sector whose jobs are often marginalized as “seasonal and part time and don’t pay family supporting wages.”


Gov. Scott Walker has made it his mission to add 250,000 private-sector jobs to Wisconsin during the next four years. More than 24,000 jobs were lost in the tourism sector during the last two years, thanks in large part to the recession. With effective and strategic marketing and a sustainable economic recovery, we are confident that we can get those jobs back and see this sector play an important role in contributing to new job growth.


Because about 38 percent of traveler spending takes place in the summer, tourism offers job opportunities to students and workers entering the workforce with limited skills or experience during this peak season. For pockets of the state with high unemployment, these jobs can serve as gateways to full-time employment and meaningful careers.


While large projects such as the Marriott make news, the majority of tourism jobs are directly tied to smaller, locally owned businesses. These are the entrepreneurs who own and operate restaurants, hotels, attractions, arts and cultural venues and retail establishments.


According to data from the Department of Workforce Development, 15,000 businesses with fewer than 50 employees currently employ more than 165,000 of the more than 260,000 Wisconsin residents who rely on jobs in the tourism industry.


Small businesses are the backbone of tourism in our state, and that is why the governor has proposed a two-year stepped-up increase in the Department of Tourism’s promotional budget, bringing it from its current $9.9 million closer to the industry’s target of $15 million.


Traveler spending in Wisconsin generates nearly $1.4 billion in state revenues and another $662 million for local governments. More visitors will mean greater tax revenues to pay for schools, health care and other essential services. According to a study conducted by Longwoods International, for every dollar Wisconsin invests in marketing, the state gets back $7 in tax benefits.


In honor of National Tourism Week, May 7-15, we acknowledge the army of nearly 300,000 goodwill ambassadors who are gainfully employed in Wisconsin’s hospitality industry. Their work every day makes Wisconsin a great place to live, work, play and visit.


Stephanie Klett is secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, P.O. Box 8690, Madison, WI 53708-8690; phone (608) 266-7621. Manuel Perez is secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, P.O. Box 7946, Madison, WI 53707-7946; phone (608) 266-9310.

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