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In Walworth County, where so much of the economy revolves around tourism, getting people to vacation here is a big deal.

But with an annual tourism budget dwarfed by our neighbors in Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota, state officials have learned how to get more bang for their tourism buck.

By doing so, Wisconsin is able to compete throughout the region with any other state, according to Wisconsin Department of Tourism Secretary Stephanie Klett.

Klett highlighted her approach during a speech Friday, March 31, 2017 at the Wisconsin Community Papers annual convention at the Abbey Resort in Fontana.

The trade group represents free weekly newspapers and shoppers in Wisconsin.

Klett said competition is fierce in the Great Lakes area for visitors and the money they spend.

Wisconsin's annual tourism budget is about $12 million, Klett said. That's compared to Michigan's $33.9 million and Illinois' annual tourism budget of $58 million.

But a lot is at stake. In Wisconsin, tourism is a $19.3 billion dollar industry that directly employs 190,000 people, according to Klett

In Walworth County, tourists in 2014 spent nearly $500 million and supported nearly 7,000 jobs, according to the Walworth County Visitors Bureau.

But the tourism message wasn't always as focused as it is today, Klett said.

By 2009, two years before Klett became secretary, Travel Wisconsin had come up with its fifth slogan in 15 years.

Unfortunately, the slogan around that time, "Live like you mean it," turned out to be something other than what was intended.

Klett remembers being at the announcement event when a woman leaned over and said, "Live like you mean it? That's the slogan for Bacardi Rum."

So the next day, Klett said, the headlines blared that state had paid $15,000 to plagiarize a slogan from a rum company.

Since those days, Klett says the department of tourism has focused on what she says in the No. one motivator for people going on vacation -- fun.

But everyone defines fun differently.

"My dad, without a fishing poll in his hand, hit's not fun. If you can touch that nerve of fun, you've got a winner," Klett said.

So, the department's first big splash into fun was to hire Wisconsin native David Zucker, who made a name for himself writing comedy films like "Airplane" and "Naked Gun."

He was excited about the project.

"You know in the 40 year's I've been gone from Wisconsin, no one's every asked me to do something for the state," he told Klett.

Zucker created a slapstick-funny winter spot that earned what Klett said was $10 million in free press.

For their next spot, they called on David's brother Jerry Zucker, also a co-writer on the "Airplane" movies.

Jerry Zucker's ad was filmed in Seymour and featured Green Bay Packer Jordy Nelson, who found himself transported from his home in Kansas to Wisconsin.

The highlight of the collaboration, however, was a reunion between the Zucker brothers, fellow writer Jim Abrahams and stars Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Robert Hays for a series of three commercials promoting Wisconsin based on the "Airplane" movies.

The reunion was a hit here in Wisconsin as well as in Hollywood.

Travel Wisconsin's latest efforts turn toward something that is classic Wisconsin -- the supper club.

The spot was filmed at the Buckhorn Supper Club in Milton, and revolved around making the perfect Old Fashioned.

That spot has been the most viewed so far, according to Klett.

Travel Wisconsin's efforts don't only revolve around TV advertising, however, Klett said.

There are different versions for print and some creative projects aimed specifically at Chicago, a market of major importance to Walworth County.

One project involved wrapping an architectural tour bus in Chicago with a Wisconsin Northwoods camp theme.

The project won numerous awards, as well as a free run in New York.

Klett, a former Miss Wisconsin, still lives in her hometown of Beloit.

Before becoming secretary, she was the host of the long-running tourism show, "Discover Wisconsin."

As she likes to remind people whenever she is out speaking, if you're having fun, she's having fun.

Thursday, 17 September 2015 09:14

Photo Gallery: 2015 Beckman Mill

NEWARK TOWNSHIP -- Never underestimate the power of a volunteer. For nearly two decades, countless visitors, from seniors to school groups, have toured the grounds of the 50-acre park to see what Friends of Beckman Mill volunteers have wrought, including an 1840s-era cooperage, a dam and mill pond, a fish ladder, a foot bridge, saw mill display, blacksmith shop, nature trails -- and the crown jewel, an authentically restored 1868 grist mill. STORY

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