Door County Lodging, Camping on the Rise

After a flat 2009, tourism numbers are on the rise in 2010.

The Door County Tourism Zone Commission’s (DCTZC) latest room tax collection reports show room tax returns are up 5.4 percent through the first half of this year, with late collections from June still to come.

Jack Moneypenny, President and CEO of the Door County Visitor Bureau, was enthusiastic about the returns.

“Our money-making months are July and August, and if that increase carries over we’ll be looking at an additional $50,000 just from those two months,” he said.

With room tax collections already up $37,000 through June, and busy fall months still to come, the visitor bureau could be looking at a healthy bump in marketing dollars.

After late reports and collections came in, room tax collections in May were up 1.5 percent, to $164,736, though occupancy rates fell slightly from 26.7 percent to 26.31 percent. The average daily room rate was up one dollar to $99 per night.

Initial returns for June show a sharp uptick in the lodging sector, with occupancy rates jumping from 40.81 percent to 44.09 percent, with 3,016 more room nights filled across the peninsula than in the same month a year ago. Total room tax revenues for the month were up 5.1 percent.

The Village of Ephraim has witnessed the strongest surge in lodging revenues, with room tax collections up $10,810 through June, a jump of 16.7 percent. Sevastopol has also seen large gains, with tax revenues up $6,808 over last year.

Rachel Willems, tourism administrator for the Ephraim Business Council, said the reports echoed what she’s heard anecdotally.

“I think it’s proof that what we’re doing is working,” Willems said. “What I hear from the lodging people is they feel like they’re slowly climbing out of the recession. Now from retail, I hear people say they’re doing OK, but people still aren’t spending as much.”

Moneypenny described Door County’s gains as “true growth.” Room tax returns last year showed a one percent decline, while other top tourism destinations saw double-digit drops in 2009.

“Where so many communities had to dig out of a 20 percent hole, we were able to hold flat last year,” Moneypenny said. “We don’t have to dig out just to get back to even.”

While lodging is up, it appears the campground sector continues to perform as well. Though campground visitors aren’t subject to the 5.5 percent room tax, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources does keep track of camping statistics in state parks. Camping nights through July 5 in each of Door County’s state parks are up significantly.

Newport reports a 13 percent increase, Peninsula 9 percent, Potawatomi 8 percent, and Rock Island 4 percent increase in camping nights. That’s after witnessing a jump in 2009 over 2008 as well. Whitefish Dunes State Park does not offer camping.

Moneypenny is thrilled with the reports thus far but said the visitor bureau is looking to the future, with critical questions up for consideration as they fight for the next generation of visitors.

“We’re moving to a demographic that is tied to their smart phones and mobile devices,” he said. “So we ask ourselves, ‘What is the next step with these folks?’”

Moneypenny is grappling with how far to jump into Internet marketing and social media without leaving behind those long-held visitors who respond to more traditional media. Data from Facebook users is helping to inform his thinking.

“Seventy-six percent of our Facebook followers are female, and 49 percent of all our followers are between the ages of 35 and 54, so clearly social media is helping us connect to a younger visitor,” he said.

With smart phones and other mobile devices dominating the market, Moneypenny said the development of a mobile site for the visitor bureau is vital.

“We are always looking for new niches,” he said.

The latest numbers aren’t just good for the visitor bureau. Municipalities have reaped $106,452 from their 30 percent share of collections so far. Municipalities are free to spend that money however they wish. Four percent of collections go to the DCTZC for administrative expenses, while the remaining 66 percent goes to the visitor bureau for the promotion of overnight stays.

The average daily rate for commercial properties (hotels, B&Bs, and resorts) was $107 in June, with an occupancy rate of 47.71 percent. Non-commercial properties (private homes and condos with no more than two units available) reported an average daily room rate of $155 in June.

Top 5 Municipalities by Room Tax Revenue in June

Gibraltar, $54,997

City of Sturgeon Bay, $48,960

Ephraim, $48,453

Sister Bay, $42,961

Village of Egg Harbor, $34,000