Come one, come all

Tourism brings $93 million to Webster Co. in 2021

-Messenger file photo by Kelby Wingert
Tasha Nielsen, trail technician for Webster County Conservation, drives a side-by-side over an obstacle made out of recycled culverts at the newly dedicated Larry Leiting Skills Development Course at Gypsum City OHV Park.

Fort Dodge may not be Orlando, Florida, with its massive amusement parks; and it’s not the arts and entertainment hub of New York City, but Fort Dodge and Webster County still bring in tens of millions of dollars in tourism revenue each year.

In 2021, tourism had a $93 million economic impact in Webster County, including direct spending of over $60 million, according to data from the Iowa Tourism Office Economic Impact Report.

That direct spending includes lodging ($10.55 million), food and beverage ($14.4 million), transportation ($16.6 million), retail ($11.06 million) and recreation and entertainment ($7.71 million), said Kerrie Kuiper, executive director of Visit Fort Dodge.

In 2022, the Webster County Convention and Visitors Bureau rebranded itself to Visit Fort Dodge. In May, Visit Fort Dodge launched a new website, DodgeTheOrdinary.com.

Kuiper also hired two new staffers to the Visit Fort Dodge office — community sales coordinator Tiffany Conrad and tourism and communications assistant Geneva Dillon.

-Messenger file photo by Britt Kudla
The Iowa Girls State Softball Tournament each July (above) and the state high school cross country meet in October are two of the biggest draws for visitors to Webster County, according to Kerrie Kuiper, executive director of Visit Fort Dodge.

The Iowa Girls State Softball Tournament each July and the state high school cross country meet are two of the biggest draws for visitors, Kuiper said.

“Those are pretty much our premier sporting events in the community,” she said. “And with the improvements made at Harlan Rogers, we anticipate more usage and more tourism coming from that venue.”

Entertainment events throughout the year also bring in significant tourism.

“Shellabration, of course, is always a strong one-day event for us,” Kuiper said. “Some hotels will fill up during that time, which is nice.”

For the last two years, Sportspark Raceway has hosted the GBC Heartland Challenge, an endurance ATV/UTV race.

-Messenger file photo by Hans Madsen
Trenton Bush, 9, of Churdan, relaxes before the annual Shellabration Concert gets under way on June 12, 2022, at Harlan and Hazel Rogers Sports Complex in Fort Dodge.

“Some of these riders are coming from 19 different states, so that is a really nice draw,” Kuiper said.

Visit Fort Dodge is able to aggregate visitor information from data provided by the Iowa Tourism Office, which uses a company that collects anonymous cell phone data. After removing data from phones that were in the area for less than two hours or more than two weeks, as well as data that shows travel patterns that indicate someone commuting for work, the company is able to identify visitors to the area.

According to that cell phone data, October, July, August and September were the highest months of tourism visitation in 2022. In 2021, those months were July, June, October and May.

The data also tracks where the cell phones originated.

Last year, more than half of visitors to Fort Dodge came from 100 to 250 miles away.

“That cell phone data is extremely important,” Kuiper said.

The cell phone data is 100% anonymous and does not include any identifiable information. It’s collected through cellular tower activity.

Events like sports tournaments, races and concerts aren’t the only attractions for visitors to Fort Dodge and Webster County. DodgeTheOrdinary.com features the Fort Museum & Frontier Village, Gypsum City OHV Park, Blanden Memorial Art Museum, Community Orchard, Rosedale Rapids Aquatic Center, Kennedy Park Playscape, Studio Fusion art studio and more.

Other outdoor attractions include the Children’s Forest & Storywalk Trail, Dolliver Memorial State Park, Camp Wa-No-Ki, Lizard Creek, Brushy Creek State Recreation Area and the various Fort Dodge city parks.

“We know we’re not Disney World, but there’s a lot to do here,” Kuiper said.

Visitors to Fort Dodge and Webster County also bring in a significant amount of tax revenue each year. In 2022, the county collected $888,318 in hotel/motel tax revenue, an increase of $300,000 from the previous year. Visitor activity also generated almost $5 million in direct state taxes and over $4 million in direct local tax.


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