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Research report recommends way to boost Kickapoo Valley tourism

A new report by UW-Madison and UW-Extension researchers describes the types of tourists who are most likely to visit the Kickapoo Valley during the off-peak months (between Labor Day and Memorial Day) and offers ideas for increasing tourism in the valley year-round.

The report, which is based on data collected in the summer and fall of 2012, was done at the request of community leaders who want to reduce the area’s dependence on summer tourism.

They found that tourists who are most likely to re-visit or recommend the Kickapoo Valley to others are seeking excitement and adventure, ecological and cultural diversity, and a destination that is clean, safe, and hospitable—more so than the quality of the infrastructure or the opportunity to relax. The authors recommend that marketing efforts emphasize more than one of these characteristics to draw visitors back.

Most respondents said they were likely to return to the Kickapoo Valley and to recommend the area to others. Those who have visited the Kickapoo Valley more than once are even more likely to do so.

“Repeat visitors tend to be very emotionally attached to the area,” says Heather Akin, a researcher and grad student in the Department of Life Sciences Communication at UW-Madison. “These individuals are an important group for marketers to reach out to because they definitely want to come back and may want to experience the valley at a different time of year.”

Those surveyed said when they made travel plans they relied more on their own experiences, web searches and friends’ recommendations than on magazines, brochures, or advertisements.

“Using social media tools and encouraging tourists to use websites like TripAdvisor or Yelp may be effective ways to help them reflect on their own experiences in the Kickapoo Valley and provide recommendations to others,” said Bret Shaw, UW-Extension environmental communication specialist and UW-Madison associate professor of life sciences communication.

Tourists expressed interest in a variety of activities during the off-season, especially hiking/walking, canoeing, visiting wineries, fishing and visiting farmers’ markets. Most visitors come to the Kickapoo Valley from Wisconsin—especially those making return trips—though first-time visitors also hailed from other nearby states. Over 70 percent of visitors reported a yearly income of $50,000 or more.

The study was funded by the Kickapoo Valley Reforestation Fund at the UW Foundation, which was established through a bequest from longtime area resident and businessman Ralph Nuzum. Akin and Shaw conducted the research with the support of staff and volunteers of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve and other community members.

The free report is available online at http://go.wisc.edu/kickapootourists.