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April 16, 2013

Michigan's status as hotspot grows

Michigan’s reputation as a place to visit continues to grow, fueling a steady increase in tourist spending despite the sluggish economy, finds an annual report from two Michigan State University tourism experts.

Tourist spending in the Great Lakes State increased about 6 percent in 2012 and should see a similar increase of 5.5 percent in 2013, according to MSU’s Sarah Nicholls and Dan McCole, who presented their findings April 16 at the Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Detroit.

Nicholls said The Henry Ford in Dearborn had a record year with visits up 25 percent, to 1.9 million. Visits to Michigan’s popular national parks – including Sleeping Bear Dunes, up 14 percent; Pictured Rocks, up 6 percent; and Isle Royale, up 5 percent – far outpaced the 1 percent average increase at all national parks across the country.

In the state’s hotel sector, 2012 saw the highest occupancy rates since 2000, added Nicholls, an associate professor who facilitated the creation of the Michigan Tourism Strategic Plan for 2012-2017.

“We can attribute these positive outcomes in 2012 to a combination of factors including the warm, dry summer and fall, a continued rebound in consumer confidence, relatively steady gas prices and the continuing influence of the state’s Pure Michigan advertising campaign,” Nicholls said.

The MSU researchers predict tourism volume – the amount of people traveling to and around the state – will increase by 3 percent in 2013.

While many people are still hurting economically, McCole said people who tend to travel the most are faring well financially and have continued to make vacations a high priority.

McCole said a number of current tourism trends complement what Michigan offers as a destination. They include:

  • Food- and beverage-based tourism: Travelers are increasingly interested in experiencing the culinary offerings of the places they visit. The word is getting out about Michigan’s local food movement and the state’s growing number of high-quality wineries and microbreweries.
  • Touring: There are a growing number of people choosing to travel from place to place on their vacations, rather than staying in one spot.
  • Nostalgia: Parents and grandparents want to share with their kids experiences they either had as a kid or wish they had. “The messages of the Pure Michigan campaign tie nicely into this trend,” McCole said.
  • Social networks: People are increasingly making tourism decisions based on recommendations from friends and family, and Internet-based social networks such as Facebook have allowed them to spread the word more effectively than in the past. This means many new people are being introduced to Michigan through shared stories from trusted sources.

Despite the strong expectations for the year, there are always wild cards that could change things for better or worse.

“This year we’re waiting to see how the economy will fare when the effects of the sequester budget cuts set in,” McCole said, “but barring a disruption to the economic recovery, we’re expecting another great year for Michigan tourism.”