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Tourist spending up in Wausau metro area

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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAU) – Tourists spent more money in the Wausau metro area last year than in 2009 even though overall travel-related spending fell in Marathon County.

The county ranked 11th highest in the state for traveler spending in 2010 as tourists spent an estimated $247 million.

But the impact on businesses and communities is wide reaching.

Traveler spending supported nearly 3,500 full-time jobs and generated a total impact of $4.7 million in taxes and other fees for local government, according to the Wausau-Central Wisconsin Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“The more visitors we have come in the area allows us to draw businesses that our market demographics don't typically say will work here,” said visitors bureau executive director Darien Schaefer, citing the arrival of Olive Garden last year as an example. Schaefer also said stronger tourism keeps prices down at local businesses.

While countywide spending fell last year, room tax collections in the seven community Wausau metro area rose 4.9 percent.

Schaefer admits high gas prices may keep some families from traveling, especially in a drive-to destination like Wisconsin. But he said the state will feel less of an impact being close to major metro areas like Minneapolis and Chicago.

“It's true that you don't have to travel,” Schaefer said. But, “I know a lot of people feel it's something that they've earned and they've gotta take a break and recharge.”