With major events canceled, Oshkosh tourism leaders adjust summer focus

Posted at 9:00 AM, Jun 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-18 10:01:04-04

OSHKOSH (NBC 26) -- They are some of Northeast Wisconsin's biggest tourist draws and a summer staple for the Oshkosh business community.

EAA Airventure, along with Country and Rock USA, bring in thousands of visitors and tens of millions of dollars to the area's economy. This year, they've all been canceled. Tourism leaders said there's no way to fully recover in one summer.

“The loss of those events is devastating, there’s no getting around that, but we do have to get through it," Oshkosh Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Amy Albright said. “Oshkosh has been Wisconsin’s event city, and right now that’s probably not the best tag line to have during a pandemic.”

Instead, the visitors bureau has turned its focus to what people can do.

“Our messaging has really been make time," Albright said. "Whether it’s make time to play, whether it’s make time to get outside, make time to relax.”

Albright said the city has great waterfronts and trails, a zoo, and a bustling farmers market. Those are the types of things to do and places to go that the visitors bureau hopes to highlight this summer.

“The farmers market has definitely taken a new place in the community," farmers market manager Michelle Schmid-Shultz said. "It’s always been a crown jewel for Oshkosh, but this year it’s actually taken a leadership role.”

Schmid-Shultz said the market brings a lot of people downtown, and businesses are able to take advantage of that. She said some places have started opening early to try to capitalize on the crowds and bring people in to shop or eat.

Still, some businesses won't have the same chances to recover from the day trips that tourism leaders are hoping to promote. Hotels and home rentals could be particularly impacted by the loss of major events. Tourism leaders hope people with plans to attend 2020 events can carry those plans into 2021.

In the meantime, businesses are encouraged to find help. The Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program is still accepting applications, and the state's We're All In small business grant program will give $2,500 to up to 30,000 businesses.