Michigan Tourism, Campground Biz Rebound

October 1, 2010 by   - () Comments Off on Michigan Tourism, Campground Biz Rebound

The Mackinac Bridge in Michigan

For the first time in years, summer tourism heated up for Michigan, the Detroit Free Press reported.

“Mother Nature surely did her part,” said Brian Lawson of Crystal Mountain resort in Thompsonville. “The whole summer was warm and sunny.”

Lodging occupancy rates jumped 13% from 2009. Sleeping Bear Dunes, Pictured Rocks and even Isle Royale saw visitor increases. Michigan campground bookings were up, even for the Upper Peninsula.

For example, at Michigan state park campgrounds, usage was up 5%, said Harold Herta, chief of resource management for parks at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment. “Overall we were up in a pretty good geographic distribution,” he said, adding that more campers ventured to the Upper Peninsula this year after all but abandoning the U.P. in 2008 and 2009. About 85% of state campground users are from Michigan.

Meanwhile, Michigan’s national parks properties use was way too. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Empire had a really strong August, with visitors up 35% from 2009. For the year, attendance was up 13%. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Munising had 12.3% more visitors this summer, and even Isle Royale National Park, a remote island in the middle of Lake Superior, had 5.7% more. Good weather helped. The National Weather Service said summer 2010 was the fourth hottest on record in southeast Michigan, as measured at Detroit Metro Airport. The average summer temperature was 74.4 degrees — 3 degrees above normal.

“It’s nice to have hit bottom and maybe come up again,” said Greg Hokans, chief of development and marketing for the Mackinac State Historic Parks.

Other reasons for the jump? Stable gas prices, rebounding group bookings and more people vacationing close to home.

Grand Traverse Bay Resort’s J. Michael DeAgostino also credited the Pure Michigan TV ad campaign — now defunct — for boosting out-of-state visitors during the crucial June-August season.

The summer even finished strong, said Harold Herta, chief of resource management at the Department of Natural Resources and Environment.

Rebound In State Tourism Encourages Hotels, Parks

Abundant sunshine, high temps and lower gas prices helped propel Michigan’s summer tourism season up from the depths of 2009, new figures show.

Hotel occupancy for the June-August period rose 13% over last year. August was especially strong with a nearly 68% occupancy rate, according to data from Smith Travel Research of Hendersonville, Tenn. It was the best summer showing for Michigan hotels since 2007.

“This year we had six weeks where we were at 100% occupancy,” said Sally DeMarr, manager of the Khardomah Lodge in Grand Haven. “From July 2 to mid-August, we didn’t have a pillow available.”

Results were more complex for other tourism businesses, but overall the trend was positive:

  • Big resorts: Grand Traverse Resort in Acme saw its group bookings — which make up two-thirds of its business — rise this summer, an important indicator that businesses are starting to feel more confident than last year, said spokesman J. Michael DeAgostino. Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville had a record July and August, said spokesman Brian Lawson. However, Crystal saw more short-term bookings and price-conscious customers. In addition, 49% of summer visitors were first-timers, many from Illinois, Ohio, Indiana and Ontario. Lawson credited the Pure Michigan tourism TV ad campaign with improving its business. Ironically, Pure Michigan was axed this fall when the Michigan Legislature killed its funding, leaving tourism folks about $5 million to keep up a minimal effort through the state’s tourism website. It has a slight chance of being resurrected before year’s end.
  • Mackinac Bridge crossings: Up 2.2% for the three-month summer period and up 2.5% for the year. The worst year for bridge crossings was 2008, when gas was $4 a gallon. The traffic uptick “is a positive sign that things are turning around,” said Robert J. Sweeney, administrator of the Mackinac Bridge Authority. Gas prices averaged about $2.70 to $2.75 per gallon this summer.
  • Ferries: The S.S. Badger in Ludington saw increases in its commercial truck traffic and a “nice improvement” on passenger traffic on its ferry across Lake Michigan, said Lynda Matson, vice president of customer service and marketing.
  • Traverse City: August numbers aren’t out yet, but hotel numbers were up 4% for June and 10% for July. The National Cherry Festival revenue was up 4.5% over 2009. The region did more advertising this year, and “I think there was a slight uptick in consumer confidence going into the summer season and some pent-up demand from reduced travel over the past year due to economic conditions,” said Mike Norton, spokesman for the city’s convention and visitors bureau.
  • Bed and breakfasts: Summer business depended on where you were, said Mike Venturini, owner of Munro House B&B in Jonesville and president of Michigan Lake to Lake B&B Association. For the year, Venturini’s property is up 17%, but “our summer was flat,” he said. “Guests are coming but not spending as much money on extra things like spa services and flowers as they have in the past.” However, some association members Up North reported a different story, he said: “Four of my innkeeper friends have told me that they had an all-time, record-breaking season in both occupancy and revenue.”
  • Mackinac parks: Attendance at parks and forts that charged an entry fee dropped by 6%, said Greg Hokans, chief of development and marketing for the Michigan State Historic Parks. It administers the 80% of Mackinac Island that is park, forts and shoreline, plus forts and parks in Mackinaw City. “In general, we saw more traffic on the island, but there were fewer people carrying shopping bags,” he said.


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