By Gloria Nzeka
Capital News Service
State and local officials’ efforts to grow the tourism industry are proving effective as some Michigan counties continue to see significant growth in the number of visitors.
Tourism is a one of the state’s leading industries, according to a recent report by the Outdoor Industry Association. It generated 232,000 direct jobs, more than twice as many as the aerospace industry, for example, the report said.
In 2017, more than 5.6 million trips were made to Michigan from outside the state, according to SMARInsights, a marketing and research firm in Indianapolis. Those visitors spent $2.1 billion in communities and local businesses across the state.
It is a statewide success that local officials readily endorse.
In Allegan County, the amount of money that visitors spent has steadily increased every year since 2011, according to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. It grew 3.6 percent between 2015 and 2016.
The Petoskey area also experienced steady growth over the past 5 years. Peter Fitzsimons, the executive director of the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau, attributed that growth to “our overall mix of history, architecture, natural beauty, outdoor recreation and a concerted effort by both city and county planners in preservation and restoration of our waterfronts, downtowns, parks and other public spaces.”
The Traverse Conservancy, which started in 1972, has protected more than 50,000 acres of sensitive lands such as waterfronts, wetlands and viewscapes, he said. Guests and tourists have created a demand for boutiques, galleries, specialty shops and gourmet restaurants.
The bureau advertises on social media, billboards and print magazines to attract visitors, Fitzsimons said. Spring, summer and fall are great and during the winter there’s a robust downhill skiing industry.
Local officials say Mason County tourism did significantly well over the last year.
“We did some really good growth both in the spring and the fall,” said Brandy Henderson, the executive director of the Ludington Convention and Visitors Bureau.
In 2017, more people attended events and visited attractions like the Ludington Sandcastles Children’s Museum and Ludington State Park. Local hotels in the city generated more than $14 million in room rental income, the highest in the county’s history and 14.1 percent higher than 2016.
Henderson said the visitors’ bureau is more strategic and innovative in how it promotes Ludington.
“We are doing a little more niche marketing in terms of not just talking about our beaches but also talking about the craft beer industry and some other attractions that people can enjoy here too, and I think that is contributing to that growth,” Henderson said.
Travel in Michigan has been rising steadily, according to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. The agency reports that among the counties with the highest tourism growth in 2016 are Ottawa, 6.8 percent; Mackinac, 5.2 percent; Allegan, 3.6 percent; Kent, 3.9 percent; Ionia, 3.4 percent; and Mason, 3.2 percent.
Another measure of recent Michigan tourism growth includes Mackinac Bridge crossings. They increased every month of 2017 through July, and numbered roughly 2.2 million during that period, according to the Mackinac Bridge Authority.