Tourism season hot for Michigan

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Michigan’s tourism industry has enjoyed a strong summer season with campers, boaters and vacationers making the most of what the mitten state has to offer.

Visitors stand over Lake Michigan at the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore scenic overlook on Wednesday under sunny skies.

Those in the tourism industry believe the summer months will help the state equal or pass the $20 billion spent by visitors in Michigan last year.

“This year, there’s been a summer of a lot of travel with the economy picking up, more people are employed and the weather has been fantastic,” said Susan Hiltz, AAA Michigan spokeswoman.

“Plus, gas prices are lower. So it really gives people good reason to go out and travel and visit Michigan and see just a wonderful place during the summertime.”

Hiltz expects Michigan’s tourism industry to pull another strong Labor Day weekend. AAA Michigan projects there will be more people on the road than the 1.2 million state residents who ventured 50 miles or more from home last year during the Labor Day weekend.

And with gas prices comparable to 2015 at $2.36 a gallon going into this weekend, it gives those hitting the road more reason to do so.

Michelle Grinnell, public relations manager for Travel Michigan, which tracks trends through the Michigan Economic Development Corp., said occupancy rates at Michigan hotels continue to steadily increase.

Twelve-year-olds Elise Joshua, left, and Gianna Rodriguez ride the Wipeout Thursday at the Michigan State Fair at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi. Even urban areas are feeling tourism love, officials say.

“Which is a good indicator that we’re in for another strong summer,” Grinnell said. “In addition to occupancy, average daily rates and revenue per available room are up even more year over year. Not only are hotels more full, but the rates are higher, and it turns out well for the hotels that make more money.”

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources reports there have also been 1,083,951 nights spent by vacationers in the state’s harbors, campgrounds and cabin lodges through August, an increase of nearly 72,000 nights compared to last year.

“What we’re seeing is that it doesn’t matter what generation you’re from, whether you are a baby boomer or a Gen X’er or you’re a millennial, all of these groups are well represented out there, and they are recreating,” said Jason Fleming, chief of resource protection and promotion division of parks and recreation.

“And they all do it maybe differently in some ways, but they are showing up, whether they are showing up camping at night or during the day.”

The DNR also reports nearly all reservable campsites in state parks and recreation areas are reserved for Labor Day weekend.

Fleming said although the DNR doesn’t collect certain usage statistics on trails, they know anecdotally more explorers are using them. And even though boating registrations have decreased over the years, Fleming added, “the numbers are still showing that there’s quite a bit of use out there.”

That’s exactly the kind of trends Matt Vance, formerly of Grand Rapids who now lives outside Boston, noticed while visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore off Lake Michigan with eight family members going into this Labor Day weekend.

Economist Matt Vance said the upbeat vibe he experienced in his visit to Sleeping Bear Dunes jives with tourism data he’s seen.

As an economist back East, Vance, 33, said he’s familiar with “tourism indicators, consumer confidence and spending.” Michigan’s tourism is on the move, he said.

“It’s no surprise to me to hear from locals up here that this year’s been very strong,” he said. “Wages have been tracking out, retail spending, consumer confidence are all up. It’s no surprise that people are enthusiastic this year. The numbers have been very strong, especially in this area.”

Vance said his relatives came from various states such as Florida, Colorado and Massachusetts “for a nice trip to the dunes and Lake Michigan this year” and the lively atmosphere was surprising.

Even the urban areas, such as Metro Detroit, are feeling the love of tourism, officials say.

Michael O’Callaghan, executive vice president and CEO of the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitor’s bureau, said “it’s been another good year” and the summer months have been especially fruitful for the region.

O’Callaghan said attractions that “consistently draw people,” such as the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn and the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak, he predicts will have record attendance this year.

Although convention attendance is slightly down this year compared to 2015 given that the city had some large conventions, regular vising traffic has helped supplement that loss, O’Callaghan said.

“There are more leisure visitors coming to downtown Detroit to pick up the loss of convention attendees to last year,” he said. “For downtown Detroit, occupancy is up overall 11/2 percentage points from last year. Demand has become greater, and we know that just by being down here every day of the week.”

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Twitter: @leonardnfleming