Mich. Parks See Visitor Bureau Fees Rise 1,700%

February 13, 2018 by   - () Leave a Comment

Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping

The cost of operating a campground and booking a campsite in Michigan will soar unless a 1,700% membership fee increase is reversed on three Mackinaw City campgrounds, according to a press release.

Last November, the Mackinaw Area Visitors Bureau made a membership fee increase that pushed the cost of advertising with the bureau out of the reach of three Mackinaw City campgrounds including, Mackinaw City/Mackinaw Island Kampgrounds of America (KOA), Tee Pee Campground and Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping, all family owned and operated campgrounds.

“My membership fee jumped from around $500 in 2017, to over $10,000 in 2018. The other campground owners and I were stunned!” said Vince Rogala, general manager and co-owner of Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.

In a written explanation to Rogala from the Mackinaw Area Visitors Bureau’s Board of Directors, the board stated that they, “realized no increase had occurred for over 20 years.” However, the fee increase solely targets campground owners, as the 2018 rate increase for a gift shop was only $50, a restaurant just $70 and a golf course went up just $30, according to the press release.

“How do you justify a $9,910 increase for our campground in just one year?” asked Rogala.

Don Molosky, attorney for Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping said, “It is clear that this enormous 1,700% increase is not part of a uniform adjustment to account for cost-of-living changes.”

Rogala worries, “It is easy to see how convention and visitors bureaus throughout Michigan could unfairly institute these extreme membership increases, forcing Michigan campground owners to choose the lesser of two evils, either pass on these higher costs to their customers or refuse to pay and get kicked out of their local visitors bureau.”

At this time, all three Mackinaw area campgrounds have rejected the 1,700% increase and for the first time in decades camping will not be marketed by the Mackinaw Area Visitors Bureau, according to the release.

Attorneys for the Mackinaw Area Visitors Bureau in a written response stated, “Perhaps the increase feels sharp because the bureau had been sorely undercharging its associate members (campgrounds) for the past several years.”

“How am I underpaying?” expressed Rogala, “I already pay $20,000 in room taxes, likely more than most of the board members who voted for this shameful price increase.”

The Mackinaw Area Visitors Bureau requires campgrounds to pay a room tax on their rental cabins, but unlike hotels, also requires campgrounds to purchase a marketing membership, according to the press release.

“I always thought this double dipping was unfair, but in prior years the membership was only $500 so we overlooked it. Now with our fee inflated to over $10,000, plus paying $20,000 in room taxes, it’s just unacceptable. Add that up and for $30,000 I can afford to hire my own marketing firm,” stated Rogala.

The Community Convention or Tourism Marketing Act has no oversight agency where members can protest the actions of their visitors bureau.

“There is absolutely no accountability. There needs to be a state oversight agency to provide checks and balances on unprincipled visitors bureaus,” voiced Rogala. “Currently, I am reaching out to my state senator, Wayne Schmidt of the 37th District, as he has introduced Senate Bill 703 & 707 that will strengthen the power of visitors bureaus.

“I want to make Sen. Schmidt aware of the problems his constituents are experiencing,” he continued. “I hope there is a way to fix the flaws, otherwise I think it would be irresponsible to give convention and visitors bureaus more power. This is a First Amendment violation, no one should be forced to pay for advertising they don’t want or need, especially to an organization that uses those funds to act in a hostile manner towards the very lodging facility that pays the room assessment.”

Jo Ann Cooley, owner of Tee Pee Campground, located just outside Mackinaw City, noted that, “Campgrounds attract visitors to the area who support restaurants, gift shops and the historic parks, etc. Many of our camping guests have friends and family who don’t have RVs, but join them on vacation by staying in hotels. In other words, campgrounds arguably promote tourism in our area, not just for our benefit, but for all the local businesses that advertise with the Mackinaw Area Visitors Bureau.”


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