BELOIT—Rock County tourism data from 2019 shows an increase in visitor spending locally compared to 2018.

However, tourism officials are preparing for bad news in the tourism business this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rock County moved up two spots in the state to 10th overall in direct visitor expenditures with $263.6 million spent by visitors in 2019 compared to 251.2 million in 2018, state tourism data released on Monday shows.

Rock County also had the fifth largest percentage increase in the state and local taxes generated by tourism with an increase of $3.85 million for a total of $31.1 million generated in 2019.

Rock County also added over $29 million from 2018 to 2019 in total tourism business sales with a total of $430.1 million in revenue generated.

Visit Beloit Executive Director Celestino Ruffini said the increased visitor expenditures was the fifth greatest increase in the state between 2018 and 2019.

“Beloit and Janesville have both leveraged the tourism industry to be a part of the economic revitalization efforts that have been underway for many years. Visitors, both regionally and nationally, are appreciating the tourism-related businesses found throughout our county,” Ruffini said.

In 2019, Rock County had 4,343 people employed in the tourism industry.

But the impact of COVID-19 is already taking a toll on Beloit tourism.

Hotel occupancy in Beloit has dropped by over 60% since March 15, when public health restrictions were starting to come into effect across the country. Overall hotel revenue is down nearly 62% since March 15, according to data provided by Visit Beloit.

In light of COVID-19, Ruffini said Visit Beloit would continue to assist tourism-related businesses struggling due to the pandemic.

“Visit Beloit continues to stay at the forefront of the trends in destination marketing and sales in order to ensure our destination stays at the top of mind for potential visitors from throughout the Midwest,” Ruffini said. “We have numerous projects that are either being planned or underway in Beloit and beyond that will continue to move our destination forward in a positive direction.”

Across the state, Wisconsin saw its biggest year in at least a decade in 2019. Wisconsin’s 113.2 million visits generated an estimated $13.7 billion, including $1.6 billion in tax revenue, with tourism for $22.2 billion in economic impact in 2019.

Last year, tourism supported 202,217 jobs and visitor trips topped 113 million.

The Wisconsin Department of Tourism asks residents to embrace the spirit of travel by supporting local businesses and helping their neighbors.

“Although we can’t meet in person, we are seeing our residents staying connected, unified and supportive of each other from afar. When the time is right, the travel and tourism industry will be integral in healing our state’s economy. But it is the spirit of travel that will heal our morale,” said Tourism Secretary Designee Sara Meaney.