Festivals like Irish Fest helping Milwaukee economy recover

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- COVID did not stop Irish Fest this year after canceling the festival in 2020.

Festivals are playing an important role in helping Milwaukee's economy recover from COVID.

The events are drawing tourists back into the area's hotels, making up for a continued lack of business travel.

"Our family comes every year, we have a whole cousins reunion every Friday night of Irish Fest," said Aly Myszewski.

She and partner Drew Wolos flew in from Boston to enjoy Irish Fest with Myszewski's family. Wolos said his first trip here two years ago was a blast.

"I came to Irish Fest two years ago, and it was awesome, so I'm happy to be back," said Drew Wolos.

Myszewski said COVID ruined the family tradition last year. She's glad to be back.

"I haven't missed a year and it was weird not having it, but with everything else going on, everything was weird," said Myszewski.

Visit Milwaukee said it's good having festivals come back, too. COVID decimated hotel stays last year. The city has been recovering ever since.

"Our July numbers have been the highest we've seen, we've been on a steady incline since December 2020, so we've increased occupancy every month over month," said Visit Milwaukee CEO Peggy Williams-Smith.

She said 62 percent of the area's hotel rooms were occupied in July. That's way better than 2020, but still down from 2019's 78.5 percent.

"We're missing business travel, meaning someone who's coming to visit someone at a company, we're also still pretty light on convention business at this point," said Williams-Smith.

She said festivals are helping pick up that slack, bringing people back to the area's hotel rooms and spending their money in local businesses.

"Having everyone and the whole community come here with the Irish food, it's just amazing, it's a ton of fun," said Wolos.

Visit Milwaukee said COVID is still causing plenty of uncertainty, making operating any type of business a challenge.

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