The Economy and U.P. Tourism, Part 1

Tourism is a major piece of Michigan’s economy, particularly the U.P. economy.

Visitors to Michigan spend more than $18 billion in the state every year.

That amounts to almost $900 million in state taxes.

But now that the economy is struggling as much as it is, will tourists still spend their vacation dollars on the U.P.?

UGN’s Mike Stark takes a look at that in his 3-part series, ‘The Economy and U.P. Tourism’.

Year after year, outdoor enthusiasts flock to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the summertime.

Some take their kayaks into the water.

Others hit the links, and still others spend their time off hiking and camping.

Last summer, when gas prices shot up to more than $4 per gallon, they still came.

Pat Black of the Marquette Country Convention & Visitors Bureau says August of 2008 was the most lucrative August on record for Marquette County tourism-related businesses.

Lyn Durant of the Cedar Motor Inn in Marquette Township says what she saw matched up with that.

She says the stream of people staying at the inn remained consistent.

Traci Prunick manages the Pictured Rocks Golf Course in Munising.

She says last summer didn’t see any sort of dropoff there, either.

And that was the trent nationally.

According to the U.S. Travel Association, summer travel declined minimally last year.

It was off from 2007 by less than 1%.

But that was before the stock market took a nosedive into recession in the fall.

The results over the winter in the U.P. were far less encouraging.

Pam Kuivanen, co-owner of the Northwoods Resort, says guests told her over the winter that the ski and snowmobile trails were as good as they’d ever seen them.

But she says that’s because so few people were using them.

The heavy amount of snow that the entire Midwest received was likely another factor as well.

Black says that if you’re from the southern Lower Peninsula, for instance, and you saw the same amount of snow that the U.P. usually does, there was no incentive to come north when you could just as easily vacation close to home.

Many business owners that rely on travelers for their living, like Nola McConaha of the Quartz Mountain Inn in Negaunee Township, are worried but believe there’s still reason for optimism.

Travel Michigan is providing even more of a reason.

The state’s official travel agency for tourism promotion started a $10 million national TV ad campaign in late March, called Pure Michigan.

Thanks to the Pure Michigan ads, the state’s website for travel information,, is getting 17% more hits now than it was last May.

The U.P. is already reaping some benefits from the Pure Michigan campaign, and Mike will have more about them in Part 2 tomorrow.