As the busy summer travel season kicks off with the Memorial Day weekend, the head of the state’s travel bureau expects another record year for Michigan’s tourism industry.
Based on data he sees and anecdotal information from conversations with local visitors bureau directors that “all tell me everything looks good,” Travel Michigan Vice President Dave Lorenz believes travel volumes will grow 4 percent this year over 2018. He expects spending by travelers will increase 3 percent.
Those kinds of growth rates are consistent with what Michigan’s tourism industry has put up in recent years, Lorenz said.
“I don’t see any indication which would show we shouldn’t expect that to continue this year,” he said. “Even though some people are talking about a slowdown in the fourth quarter, I am very confident that we are going to have another record-breaking year for the warm weather season.”
One statistic that has Lorenz so confident is the “pretty impressive” increase of about 5 percent this year in traffic to Travel Michigan’s website, Michigan.org. He also hears from visitors bureau directors around the state who report increased web traffic and higher advanced bookings for lodging this summer in their respective areas.
Weighing in the tourism industry’s favor for a good summer: Both the state and national economies remain strong, although both are projected to grow slower through 2019.
A cold winter and a cool, wet spring also created pent-up demand among consumers for summer travel, Lorenz said.
“Long winters mean productive summers for our industry,” he said.
One indicator of what may lie ahead this summer comes from AAA Michigan, which estimates that 1.3 million state residents will travel over the Memorial Day weekend, up 3.3 percent from 2018 and the highest volume in 15 years.
Even high gasoline prices, which have gone up 30 cents per gallon in the last two months, shouldn’t have much of an effect on consumers’ travel plans, according to AAA Michigan.
“When gas prices are expensive, travelers may shorten the distance of a road trip, eat out less or look for free activities,” said Adrienne Woodland, spokesperson for AAA Michigan. “But, overall, prices are very similar to this time last year and, like then, they aren’t letting that deter them from taking summer road trips.”
Gas averaged $2.87 per gallon statewide earlier this week, which compares to $3.01 per gallon a year ago.
An arm of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., Travel Michigan this summer plans to spend $19 million on regional and national campaigns promoting the state around the Midwest as a summer travel destination. The Pure Michigan promotion includes television, radio, print, digital and outdoor ads that target key regional markets around the Midwest. That includes the markets of Chicago, Milwaukee and Indianapolis, as well as Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio.
The national Pure Michigan campaign began in March and through early June will spend $9.8 million, $2.9 million of which came from advertising partners.
An annual analysis of the Pure Michigan campaign concluded it influenced 2.1 million out-of-state travelers last year to come to Michigan, where they spent an estimated $2.1 billion and generated $153.1 million in state tax revenue.
Two concerns that could affect business this summer are high water levels that have overwhelmed some parks and marina docks and could delay travel to some communities, as well as the availability of workers, Lorenz said.
On Thursday, high water levels led the City of Grand Haven to close its heavily-used boat launch on Harbor Island because of flooding. The city directed boaters to other boat launches in the area that access the Grand River.
As well, the federal government has not released as many H2B six-month visas as tourism industry officials had hoped. The visas are needed by professionals who travel from other nations to the U.S. each year to work at resorts and other travel destinations. Meanwhile, low unemployment limits the availability of the local talent pool for tourism, Lorenz said.
“We just simply cannot find enough employees form domestic sources,” Lorenz said. “That fact is that we’ll have some of our industry not fully operating simply because they can’t find enough employees.”