Travelers spend approximately $12 billion each year in Wisconsin. More than half of these expenditures are spent on shopping and dining—over $7 billion.
According to the state’s most recent report on traveler spending, nearly $4 billion is spent on shopping and $3.4 billion on food each year. The next highest item on the traveler expenditure list is recreation at nearly $3 billion, which consists of an amalgam of items, from gambling and liquor to fishing licenses and event tickets. The remaining segment is lodging at $1.6 billion.
Despite those numbers, there is a lingering belief even within the industry that travel revenue goes to lodging and recreation-related businesses. The reality is that these are the two smallest pieces of the pie.
Although the majority of travel expenditures go to shopping and dining, they are not the reasons travelers give for selecting a travel destination. In a 2003 study, the Wisconsin Department of Tourism found that for people traveling to urban areas, shopping ranked fourth on the list of reasons why they traveled. Dining didn’t even make the top 10. When they looked at people headed to rural destinations, shopping was ranked seventh and dining ninth.
The top reasons people gave for choosing a destination were:
- visiting friends
- outdoor activities
- scenery/natural beauty
People choose their destinations based on fun, recreation and socializing. It is the trails, available leisure activities, festivals and other recreational assets that help travelers make their decisions about traveling to a destination. But it appears that nearly all travelers, no matter their recreational interest, enjoy shopping and dining when on vacation.
When you consider how people live today, this makes sense. Shopping and dining are entertainment for many people. When people aren’t traveling, they spend much of their leisure time shopping and dining. There is a joke in Wisconsin that when people aren’t eating, they are busy talking about where they’re going to eat next. The same goes for shopping: think of how much of our conversation time and mental effort goes into deciding what to buy and where to buy it.
What does this all mean? For businesses—particularly restaurants and retailers—it means that you should be aware that a good number of your customers are probably people who have come to your area to visit friends, use the trails, enjoy the scenery and attend events. To better serve the needs of these customers, you might consider offering WiFi and visitor guides. Your staff should be ready to give basic driving directions and suggestions about places to visit in the area. Most importantly, know that visiting your dining or retail establishment is an extremely important part of their travel experience.