Michigan’s tourism industry thrived in 2015 and is expected to remain strong through 2016, according to two Michigan State University researchers who presented their annual report at the Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Lansing.
The year was highlighted by particularly strong growth in hotel occupancy rates, up 2.3 percent statewide compared to a national average 1.7 percent increase, and a significant surge in visitation to natural areas.
“Visits to our natural attractions saw tremendous increases,” said Sarah Nicholls, associate professor of tourism. “The overall increase in visitation across all of our National Park Service sites was nearly 20 percent, compared to just under 5 percent for all US sites.”
Visitation to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore went up 10 percent, closing out 2015 with 1,535,633 visitors.
Nicholls said that these increases can be attributed in part to key economic measures, such as increasing consumer confidence across the US and low gas prices across the state of Michigan.
“Not only do trips cost less, but people are much more likely to prioritize pleasure items given their increasing confidence in their jobs and the economy,” Nicholls said.
She added that the improvements also reflect the continuing success of the award-winning Pure Michigan advertising campaign and ongoing positive coverage in the US media. Traverse City alone received more than 20 ‘best of’ rankings by national outlets in 2015, and Detroit is likely to see increasing levels of positive coverage with the recent launch of the Detroit’s Comeback Story campaign.
According to Dan McCole, associate professor in MSU’s Department of Community Sustainability, MSU is forecasting that Michigan’s tourism industry will continue these positive trends in 2016, despite slightly weaker economic indicators compared to last year. He predicts a 3 percent increase in tourism prices and a 5 percent increase in tourism spending.
“Michigan’s tourism industry fully recovered from the recession in 2013 and since then we’ve seen steady growth, which we expect to continue,” McCole said. “Demand for travel and travel intentions are still very high, and tourism has been leading most other sectors of the economy.”
He added that the preferences and status of millennials, the largest generation ever at more than 95 million strong, are significantly influencing travel trends as they age.
“The oldest millennials are now 35 and as a generation they are starting to earn higher incomes,” McCole said. “They are very different than their predecessors were at the same life-stage, and because of their size, increasing spending ability and preference for experiences over ‘stuff,’ they are having a meaningful impact on the tourism industry.”
McCole’s research also explores the increasing influence of smart phones on tourism.
“Smart phones are being used increasingly for planning and booking travel, and are changing the way we experience travel,” McCole said.
With these trends complimenting what Michigan offers as a destination, the MSU researchers predict that overall tourism volume – the amount of people travelling to and around the state – will increase by 3 percent in 2016.
“Subject to the usual wild cards, we are expecting 2016 to be another solid year for Michigan tourism,” Nicholls said.