Researchers see more growth in Michigan tourism

Mackinac Island (file photo courtesy www.michigan.org)
Mackinac Island (file photo courtesy www.michigan.org)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan’s tourism industry should continue to grow this year as the economy improves and the state increases its advertising overseas, a Michigan State University report said Monday.

Tourism spending rose 4 percent in 2013 and will increase another 4.5 percent in 2014, according to the school’s report. Researchers cite the improving economy, national tourism trends and the state’s Pure Michigan advertising campaign as factors contributing to last year’s uptick.

Dan McCole, an assistant professor in MSU’s community sustainability department, said rising consumer confidence and stock markets suggest “Michigan tourism will experience another strong year” in 2014.

“The recession has made people be less wasteful in their spending,” McCole said in an interview. “One of the trends we see is people are much more likely to spend money on experiences rather than stuff now, so that’s good for the tourism industry.”

McCole and Sarah Nicholls, an associate professor in MSU’s geography and community sustainability departments, had previously projected a 5.5 percent growth rate for 2013 after the state’s 6 percent increase in 2012.

Michigan’s reputation as a travel destination continues to grow, Nicholls said, and almost $4 million of Pure Michigan’s $29 million budget this fiscal year is funding advertisements in Canada, Germany, China and the United Kingdom.

Despite colder temperatures in 2013 than in 2012, hotel occupancy rose almost 2 percentage points to 57.5 percent last year. Statewide traffic counts rose by 4 percent, but Mackinac Bridge crossings decreased by 1 percent.

An exception to industry growth was an expected dip in national park visits due to the federal government shutdown in October.

The increasing popularity of social media and travelers’ preference for authentic local experiences will continue to shape Michigan’s tourism industry, McCole said.

The photo-sharing mobile app Instagram and the user-generated review website Tripadvisor are causing tourism professionals to start “really thinking visually about what are tourists seeing,” he said.

McCole and Nicholls presented their findings at the Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism near Traverse City on Monday.

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