- Associated Press - Friday, May 5, 2017

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Visitors spent more than $12 billion in Wisconsin last year, marking the seventh straight year of tourism spending growth, according to reports the state Department of Tourism released Friday.

Milwaukee County, which boasts Major League Baseball’s Brewers, the NBA’s Bucks and Wisconsin’s largest public museum, saw the most tourism spending of any county at $1.9 billion, up nearly 4 percent from 2015. Dane County, which features the state Capitol building and a popular weekend farmer’s market, was second at $1.2 billion, up about 5 percent. Sauk County, home to massive water parks and resorts in Wisconsin Dells and Lake Delton, was third at a little more than $1 billion.

Overall, tourism accounted for $19.9 billion in total business sales in 2016 - up 3.5 percent from 2015 - as visitors’ dollars moved across the state’s economy. Visitor spending generated $1.5 billion in state and local taxes, up 2.5 percent, helping support 193,454 jobs. Visitors spent the most money - $3.2 billion - on food in 2016. Lodging was second at $2.7 billion.

Lower gas prices, increasing wages and strong consumer confidence drove more travel and higher spending per trip, the reports said. Gov. Scott Walker and Tourism Secretary Stephanie Klett planned to tout the reports during a tour of the state Friday. Their itinerary included visits to Discover Mediaworks, a Madison company that produces the television programs “Discover Wisconsin” and “Into the Outdoors;” a La Crosse rest area; the Fox Cities Exhibition Center in Appleton; and a Minocqua wildlife park.

“The travel and hospitality industry continues to be crucial to our state and is consistently a top performing sector of our economy,” Walker said in a news release.

Philadelphia-based Tourism Economics, a consulting firm that specializes in tourism analysis, compiled the reports for the state. The firm relied on studies from Longwoods International, another tourism research firm that surveys U.S. travelers about their habits and spending, as well as data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bureau of Economic Analysis, the census bureau and the U.S. Department of Commerce. The reports cost the state $93,400.

Other notable findings in the report included:

-Nearly 108 million people visited Wisconsin in 2016, 2.4 million more visits than in 2015.

-Demand for lodging surpassed 17 million rooms last year, up 2.3 percent. Rising demand and higher prices generated 5.4 percent growth in room revenues.

-Total visitor spending peaked in the third quarter at $3.9 billion. Spending in all four quarters in 2016 exceeded each quarter of 2015 by at least 3.3 percent.

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Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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