Best Western manager works hard to keep visitors happy

Room occupancy tax will aid tourism efforts

Sally Jo Stevens is doing everything she can to generate tourism in the Wittenberg area.

Stevens is general manager of the Best Western Wittenberg Inn and the leading force behind development of the Wittenberg Tourism Committee.

Her work has included pushing for an occupancy, or room, tax in Wittenberg to capitalize on visitors drawn to the area for its natural beauty and recreation opportunities, business growth and the three nearby casinos — Ho-Chunk Gaming Wittenberg, Northstar in Bowler and Menominee Casino in Keshena.

Because a lot of the Best Western’s business comes from the Wausau area, where the occupancy tax is 8 percent, Stevens lobbied the Wittenberg Town Board in 2016 to levy a tax higher than the city of Shawano’s rate of 4.5 percent. The board went with 8 percent.

Room taxes last year generated $80,000 in Wittenberg.

The money collected is to be used to sponsor events and produce items that will help attract even more visitors and, of course, hotel stays.

Last year, Stevens led the creation of the tourism committee, whose sole purpose is to determine how to spend the occupancy tax revenue.

“There is a new brochure about the activities and amenities in the Wittenberg area, which is being paid for through that occupancy tax,” Stevens said.

The brochure should be available before summer.

Town of Wittenberg President Richard Beversdorf heads up the tourism committee, which will also include other town board members as well as people from the Shawano Country Chamber of Commerce.

“The plan is to divide the occupancy tax money between the Wittenberg Area Chamber of Commerce and the Shawano Country Tourism Council,” Beversdorf said. “We’ll be meeting in the next couple of weeks to make recommendations for next year.”

Knowing a new hotel was opening at the Ho-Chunk Casino in Wittenberg, Stevens also made some changes to her business.

The Best Western, which changed hands in 2016 from Red Oak Lane LLC to Mahen and Maya LLC, just finished a $300,000 renovation.

“We changed all the lighting to LED, remodeled the front desk, breakfast area, exercise room and pool area and bar,” Stevens said. “There is also new carpeting in the bar and ballroom.”

Stevens also started marketing to corporate accounts.

“By focusing on the smaller corporations from Minneapolis and Chicago, we’ve been able to cater to those companies who need to host two- or three-day conferences in the area,” Stevens said.

The hotel has also drawn more long-term customers because of the expansion at Nueske’s Applewood Smoked Meats and road construction in the area.

The Best Western Wittenberg Inn was built in 2002 and has long been a favorite hotel for family reunions, weddings and other social events, according to Stevens.

She arrived 4 1/2 years ago for what was supposed to be a three-month commitment while the search was on for a new general manager.

But Wittenberg became home.

“My fiance, Dennis, and I fell in love with the area, decided to get married and make it our home,” Stevens said. “Two of our children have moved here as well.”