The show offered well-received safety protocols and social events

After an unprecedented and turbulent year in the travel industry, its members showed their resiliency during the seventh Circle Wisconsin Midwest Marketplace in Oshkosh. Independent tour operators and representatives from dozens of CVBs, attractions and hotels gathered to reconnect and look forward to a promising future.

Circle Wisconsin, a membership-based organization that promotes statewide tourism, hosted the event at the Best Western Premier Waterfront Hotel & Convention Center. The complex, beautifully situated in downtown Oshkosh along the Fox River, granted easy access to the adjoining convention center and the city’s cultural attractions. The hotel was also very accommodating with health protocols, and their efforts resulted in one of the very first travel industry trade shows to be held during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Best Western staff was incredibly collaborative with the necessary COVID adaptations we needed to make,” says Circle Wisconsin Executive Director Wendy Dobrzynski. “They went above and beyond managing the food services and hospitality in addition to the health protocols.” To keep attendees safe, plexiglass dividers were placed between buyers and sellers at appointment tables, all communal surfaces were frequently sanitized and masks were encouraged for all functions.

“We’re proud to be one of the very first industry events in the country to return,” says Dobrzynski. “And the reason we were able to execute this is because of the exceptional preparedness of the venue and our attendees. What distinguished this event is its focus on the Upper Midwest and the small, intimate nature of the convention floor, so keeping everyone safe while maintaining our personality was the priority.”

Dobrzynski believes Midwest Marketplace’s goal to match every tour operator and every attraction for at least one meeting gives it an advantage. Buyers and sellers were matched for six-minute appointment sessions for thousands of one-on-one meetings. Unlike many trade shows, Midwest Marketplace encourages a casual and contained atmosphere, with the entire sales floor fit into one ballroom. Tour operators were encouraged to socialize freely in between sessions, enjoy a variety of refreshments and visit a convenience station outside the hall that featured free pharmaceutical and office supplies. ”

It was great to return in-person,” says Julie Kronlage from Travel Dubuque. ”So many of our professional relationships develop at these shows, and it’s not the same during a Zoom or phone call. I’m glad Wendy and her team were able to make it happen with the precautions in place.”

Dobrzynski and her team excelled at evening activities that showcased the Oshkosh area and its signature attractions. Conference-goers were able to explore the Paine Art Center & Gardens (a Tudor Revival-style mansion filled with rare art) and the Oshkosh Public Museum before sampling delicious craft beer at Fox River Brewing Company.

Despite surrounding circumstances, the 2021 Midwest Marketplace was an unqualified success, and participants eagerly awaited next year’s conference at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.

—By Miles Dobis