Tourism industry gives boost to Michigan's recovery

Lauren Abdel-Razzaq
The Detroit News

Grand Rapids — Last year's cold, wet weather didn't hurt Michigan's tourism industry, which is still growing steadily as the economy continues to improve, according to a report from Michigan State University researchers.

As for 2015, all signs point to continued growth.

"People want to travel, they have the money to travel, so this is a very good thing," said Dan McCole, an assistant professor in MSU's Department of Community Sustainability. "Tourism is really leading this recovery in our economy."

With that in mind, McColes and his partner in the outlook report, Sarah Nicholls, estimated travel prices, volume and spending will each increase in 2015 by 3 percent, 1.5 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively.

Tourism in Michigan supported 200,000 jobs and generated $18.7 billion in 2013, according to Nicholls and McCole, who authored the annual report presented at the Pure Michigan Governor's Conference on Tourism here.

While the year was six percent cooler and 11 percent wetter than normal last year, hotel occupancy and car traffic, two major indicators of tourism activity, increased two percent and one percent respectively.

"(Last year) saw another year of steady growth for tourism in Michigan despite the weather, which was especially uncooperative early in the year and again in the autumn," said Nicholls, who is an associate professor of tourism.

According to Nicholls and McCole, consumer confidence was also up 19 percent and gas prices were down nearly five percent.

Some of the emerging trends in tourism are the proliferation of what McCole called the "Digital Elite," travelers who use a smartphone, tablet and laptop while traveling, and an increase in family travel and milestone and multigenerational travel.

But one of the biggest drivers right now, something Michigan is benefitting from, is "authentic travel," said McCole. That is, finding out what the locals do, eat, drink and enjoy.

"None of want to be seen as tourists even though travel is growing. We want to blend in to the local culture more."

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