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March 10, 2014

Michigan tourism poised for strong year

Tourism spending in Michigan was strong in 2013 and is poised for another robust year in 2014, say two Michigan State University researchers who presented their annual report today at the Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference in Traverse City.

Factors fueling the upswing include an improving economy, several national tourism trends and the success of the state’s Pure Michigan advertising campaign both nationally and internationally.

Dan McCole, assistant professor in MSU’s Department of Community Sustainability, predicts tourism spending, as measured by hotel and motel tax receipts, will increase 4.5 percent in 2014.

“Many of the factors we look at suggest that Michigan tourism will experience another strong year,” McCole said. “The stock markets, gross domestic product and consumer confidence are all high. Unemployment is down and housing markets continue to improve. With each year of the recovery, people have more and more confidence in the economy and are therefore more comfortable spending money.”

Sarah Nicholls, associate professor in the Departments of Community Sustainability and Geography, said tourism spending in 2013 jumped 4 percent, while hotel occupancy increased nearly 2 percent and car traffic on the state’s international bridges and tunnels was also up.

Awareness of Michigan as a tourism destination continues to rise, Nicholls said. She noted that nearly all of the additional $4 million allocated to the state’s Pure Michigan campaign for 2013-14 is being spent on advertising in Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and China.

Tourism spending was strong last year despite the fact temperatures were 9 percent cooler relative to 2012 and visits to the state’s national parks were down, Nicholls said. Helping the cause were lower gas prices (down 3 percent from 2012) and positive news coverage (such as Mackinaw City ranking as the top tourist town for families and Grand Rapids being voted Beer City USA for 2013).

Nationally, McCole said leisure travel is growing at a higher rate than business travel and that tourists are increasingly searching for authentic and local experiences instead of chain restaurants and hotels.

“More tourists today are interested in sampling regional wineries and craft brews, eating at restaurants that serve foods made with locally produced ingredients, and visiting unique cultural and historical attractions.” McCole said. “With every new magazine article that recognizes a Michigan destination, and with every Pure Michigan ad, more people realize they can get these kinds of experiences in Michigan.”