Travel Wisconsin announced the establishment of a new Office of Group Travel, which will focus on welcoming more meetings, conventions, sporting events, and motorcoach tours to the state. We talked to Dawn Zanoni, the director of the Office of Group Travel, to learn how Travel Wisconsin is planning to strengthen its relationship with Circle Wisconsin and the group tour market.

Q. What is your professional background, and how did you become part of the new Office of Group Travel?

A. I’ve been with the Department of Tourism for over 29 years and have worn a number of different hats, but throughout my tenure, I’ve focused on the meetings and conventions and sports markets. We’ve had a partnership with Circle Wisconsin, led by Wendy Dobrzynski, and now what we’re trying to do is offer up more support. The Office of Group Travel is designed to grow our market share in the meetings, conventions, sports travel, and motorcoach markets. During the pandemic, the hardest-hit market was meetings and conventions and motorcoach travel. … We’ve decided to establish this office so we can better position Wisconsin as a destination for these specialty worlds of meetings, sports, and motorcoaches.

Q. What kinds of resources are you hoping to provide to the motorcoah industry?

A. We’ve increased our relationship with Circle Wisconsin. We do a multitude of trade shows with [Dobrzynski]. So, what we’re looking to do is leverage our relationship with Circle Wisconsin and different destination marketing organizations to increase our relationship with the group tour market.

Q. What are your goals for the first year of the new Office of Group Travel?

A. It’s getting the office established. It’s learning more about receptive operators we have in this state; what type of messaging we can better develop to speak directly to this audience. How can we better showcase the assets, attractions, facilities, outdoor recreation, and all that Wisconsin has to offer? How can we better position our state to really sell it to motorcoach operators?

Q. What has been the response of destinations or travel experience representatives within the state of Wisconsin?

A. I think it has been a long time coming, and it’s something that different destination marketing organizations have wanted for a long time. I’ve worked with the meetings, conventions, and sports markets, and one of the hats I wear is that of a meeting planner. I plan our annual tourism conference every year, so I’ve been a staunch advocate having come from the sales end of the industry. I’ve worked in both hotels as a sales manager and at a destination marketing organization [where] meetings, sports, and motorcoaches are big business. We’ve really been focused predominantly on leisure travel for most of our existence, so now it’s putting increased effort and more financial dollars into these markets.

We don’t necessarily sell any one destination or property. We’re really set up to position Wisconsin and to establish relationships within the markets with motorcoach planners. [We want to] really push that sales effort down to the destination marketing organization level where they can sell their individual destinations and be part of a tour in Wisconsin. And with our relationship with Wendy and Circle Wisconsin, I think we can increase our presence at a variety of different trade shows both domestically and internationally.

Q. What are your favorite experiences to share with travelers in your home state?

A. I think the most interesting thing I’ve learned about the state that I never knew prior to joining Travel Wisconsin is the islands—like Washington Island, Rock Island, Madeline Island. It’s such a unique and fabulous experience here in our state.

Q. What is something you want to share with our readers?

A. We’re an undiscovered treasure with our outdoor recreation opportunities, sports, culture, and ethnic diversity. And it’s such an important thing to draw attention to our Native American culture and diversity throughout the state. When we talk about Native American tribes, they’re all so different and unique in their own way. At Travel Wisconsin, we want to really dive in and try to establish relationships and learn more about their cultures.

By Katherine Lawless

Main Image: Dawn Zanoni; Credit: Travel Wisconsin