Other comparable second-tier cities are also seeing growth in visitor numbers and tourism infrastructure. Milwaukee, Wisconsin—home to the Harley-Davidson Museum, Fortune 500 firms and a world-famous brewery heritage, but not usually thought of as a first-tier tourism or business-travel draw—raked in $2.9 billion in travel receipts in 2012, making the industry the city's top employer, according to Paul Upchurch, president and CEO of tourist board Visit Milwaukee.
This year also looks promising in the town known as Brew City. In terms of arrivals, the first quarter "was extremely strong in all segments, although leisure was a little slower than business travel because we had what everyone else in the Midwest had—a long and cold winter," said Upchurch.
Milwaukee, too, is experiencing what Upchurch called "significant growth" in its hotel market, particularly in developments geared toward higher-end leisure and business travelers. Improvements to its convention center, sports venues and other attractions are also in the works. "Like many other cities our size, we're looking at some of the needs that we think will make a lot of sense in terms of tourism development," he said.
Property openings include a new full-service Marriott, a Hilton Garden Inn "that was a phenomenal renovation of a century-old building" and a soon-to-open 380-room hotel at the Potawatomi Bingo Casino, just outside downtown.
Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants is also planning a property, but the most iconic, typically Milwaukee hotel entrant might be the Brewhouse Inn & Suites, a 100-room boutique facility built into the former Pabst Brewery—and the perfect marriage of upscale hotel development and local heritage. "The old kettles are still there; it's very experiential," noted Upchurch.
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To promote all these developments, Visit Milwaukee in May launched both a refreshed website at VisitMilwaukee.org and a summer marketing campaign primarily geared at the drive-in source markets of Wisconsin, northern Illinois and Chicago.
The city, like most other second-tier urban destinations, recognizes that its appeal is mainly regional and, at most, domestic. At Visit Pittsburgh, in Pennsylvania's second-largest city, president and CEO Craig Davis said, "I will be very straight with you: The drive-in market is our sweet spot."