In another timeline, this would have been the week the Democratic National Convention came to Milwaukee. The event was expected to bring tens of thousands of people to Milwaukee and bring millions in revenue to the area. But then the coronavirus pandemic hit, upending everything.
The DNC will still be coming to Milwaukee in August, but the event’s presence in the city will be substantially reduced as lots of the activities will be virtual. So, we want to look at the event that may have been, the impact it could have had, and what the loss of this more robust convention could mean for the city.
Val Sibilkov, an associate professor of finance at UW-Milwaukee, says hotels are going to be hit the hardest by the lack of a large, in-person convention. “In the whole pandemic, my suspicion is that hotels have been hit much harder than other establishments,” he says. This is because hotels are still paying rent and building upkeep no matter if the hotel is full or empty.
But the most valuable part of the convention may still happen: a boost in reputation for Milwaukee. While tens of thousands of people may not be walking around our city right now, excited to plan their next trip back, eyes will still be on Milwaukee.
“Oftentimes, reputational effects are much more valuable than direct gains,” says Sibilkov. “From the perspective of putting the city on the map, I think [the DNC] will still have that effect.”
This effect could bring a steady stream of tourists to Milwaukee for the foreseeable future. It could also help make some gains in lost attendance for Milwaukee's large events like Summerfest, which in 2019 had its lowest attendance in 30 years.
Overall, Sibilkov says the Milwaukee and Wisconsin economies are strong enough to withstand the loss of tens of thousands of new tourists coming for the DNC and should be focused on pivoting to capture the new digital audience.