Milwaukee offers incentives to restaurant, hotel, hospitality workers who get vaccinated

NOW: Milwaukee offers incentives to restaurant, hotel, hospitality workers who get vaccinated

MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Milwaukee city leaders are focused on bringing back the night life, festivals and events that are dearly missed. Health officials agree: COVID-19 vaccinations are the way to make that happen.

VISIT Milwaukee announced Friday, May 7, was "Hospitality Vaccination Day."

"It is the city of festivals, and we've got Summerfest and State Fair, who both announced their line-ups this week, so we're back," Peggy Williams-Smith, president and CEO of VISIT Milwaukee, said during a news conference Friday.

As the number of daily vaccinations declines at the Wisconsin Center, the organization even offered incentives. Hospitality workers who got vaccinated Friday at the Wisconsin Center could enter to win gift cards and money.

"But let's face it: The real prize is the ability to welcome back visitors to our city," Williams-Smith said. "So we ask that the Milwaukee community takes its shot to get traveling tourism back on track, and our hospitality heroes are going to lead the way today."

"Milwaukee is looking ahead to bigger and better things, and we cannot let a virus slow us down anymore," said Marty Brooks, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Center District.

Hospitality workers will come back to the Wisconsin Center on May 28th for their second dose. That's also the day the vaccine clinic at the Wisconsin Center will close for good.

The health department plans to shift its efforts to holding clinics at businesses, work sites, homes and schools.

Data shows 42.3 percent of Milwaukee adults over the age of 16 received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 35.2 percent are fully vaccinated, said Kirsten Johnson, commissioner of the Milwaukee Health Department.

"Those who are fully vaccinated only have a one in 10,000 chance of contracting COVID-19, compared to one in 10 for those who are unvaccinated," Johnson said.

Milwaukee represents 26 percent of Wisconsin’s total tourism market, with an economic impact of over $5.7 billion each year, according to VISIT Milwaukee.

"We have to build the confidence that eating out is safe again," said Kristine Hillmer, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association.

Restaurants and breweries like Black Husky Brewing in Riverwest want nothing more.

"It's a real community place and we've done a pretty good job of keeping that going during COVID, but I think the whole community has lost some of that vibrancy because we're so afraid to get out," said Tim Eichinger, co-owner of Black Husky Brewing Company.

The brewery is offering its own vaccine clinic next weekend, May 15 and May 16, with a different kind of incentive.

"If you bring in your friend who's unvaccinated, you get a free beer and then the person when they're vaccinated they also get a free beer, as well," Eichinger said.

Anne Sayers, secretary for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, cited national data showing 86 percent of Americans plan to travel in the next six months, and travelers are now traveling in larger party sizes for longer time periods.

"Vacations of two nights or more are up in Wisconsin. In fact, Wisconsin is already surpassing the number of vacations lasting two nights or more from the pandemic year of 2020, but also from Wisconsin's record setting tourism year of 2019," Sayers said.

As travel increases statewide, state and local leaders said it's important people feel safe coming to Milwaukee.

"Right now, it's estimated that restaurants will not be fully recovered until 2024. So now is the time that it's critical that we start that rebuilding process," Hillmer said.

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