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June 1, 2016

Great Lakes vital to strong Michigan tourism industry

Michigan boasts 3,288 miles of Great Lakes shoreline – the longest freshwater coastline in the United States – as well as more than 11,000 inland lakes and 76,000 miles of rivers and streams.

These water resources are the key to the state’s flourishing tourism industry and support more than 200,000 jobs – a critical element of Michigan’s economy, environment, society and heritage, a Michigan State University researcher says in a new state report.

“In addition to their importance for agriculture, industry, household consumption and transportation, Michigan’s lakes, rivers and streams provide the setting for countless recreation activities and tourism experiences,” said Sarah Nicholls, associate professor of tourism in the Departments of Community Sustainability and Geography. “But these resources are also highly complex and dynamic, so constant monitoring and careful management are essential to maintain their integrity.”

Nicholls was invited by the State of Michigan to contribute to the State of the Great Lakes 2015 report, published by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The annual report, introduced by Gov. Rick Snyder, provides an overview of current water-related issues and opportunities including the recently released draft Water Strategy.

In her section of the report, entitled “The Importance of the Great Lakes to Michigan Tourism,” Nicholls noted that in 2014, tourism activity employed more than 214,000 Michiganders in “jobs that can never be outsourced to another location.” She added that without the tourism industry in the state, each household would owe an additional $640 additional in taxes per year.

As one of Michigan’s largest industries, tourism plays a vital role in the state’s economy, and waterfront activities are crucial to attracting tourists.

“Vibrant waterfronts – and the setting for recreation and entertainment that they provide – are the most critical focal point of Michigan’s coastal towns,” Nicholls said.
She added that a recent study revealed that four of Michigan’s five greatest strengths against regional tourism market competitors are water-related.

Nicholls was asked by the Michigan Travel Commission and Travel Michigan in 2011 to lead development and implementation of the 2012-2017 Michigan Tourism Strategic Plan, an initiative developed with input from more than 1,000 tourism industry stakeholders from across the state. The strategic plan aims for Michigan to be recognized as one of America’s favorite four-seasons travel destinations and lays out goals and objectives for the state to achieve that end.

With water as the focal point of Michigan tourism, the wellbeing of the Great Lakes is paramount.

“One of the eight goals of the strategic plan is that Michigan’s tourism industry be internationally recognized for our stewardship of – and rich opportunities to experience – our natural, cultural, heritage resources,” Nicholls said. “Given its Great Lakes coastline and vast length and number of inland rivers, streams and lakes, Michigan is particularly well positioned to become a leading destination for water trails."

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