Published July 1, 2008 | July 2008 issue
Depending on whom you believe, tourism in the Upper Peninsula this year might be better or worse than last year, and compared with the rest of the state.
A spring report on the state tourism outlook for 2008 by Michigan State University researchers predicted that the Upper Peninsula would see tourism revenue drop by 5 percent this year, compared with a 2 percent drop statewide.
Some indicators suggest that U.P. tourism might indeed be in for a tough year. For example, vehicle crossings at the Mackinac Bridge dropped by 2 percent last year—the fifth consecutive year of decline. The first two months of this year were down as well. As gas prices rise and families scale back on vacation plans, the U.P.'s remoteness makes it more than a gas tank away from many major population centers, even in its own state.
But other factors suggest a more optimistic view. One advantage of U.P. tourism is that it offers an affordable vacation for cash-strapped families; while travel costs might be higher, many of the U.P.'s main attractions—lakes, streams, woods and other natural amenities—don't cost much to enjoy. The U.P.—and all of Michigan, for that matter—also has the advantage of a strong Canadian dollar, which makes everything comparatively affordable for Canadian travelers.
The U.P. has benefited from broader marketing, as well. Earlier this year, the U.P. made Disney Family Travel's list of top 50 family vacation destinations. The state also plans to spend more than $17 million on tourism promotion—$4 million more than last year. In May, the state unveiled a "Pure Michigan" advertising campaign targeting nearby states and Canada that focuses on the state's natural resources and recreational activities, a theme perfectly suited for U.P. tourism. The state Department of Natural Resources also reopened 20 state forest campgrounds—nine of them in the U.P.—that were closed last year because of funding shortfalls.
Tom Nemacheck, head of the Upper Peninsula Travel & Recreation Association, said he expects the U.P. to outperform the MSU report's forecast. Last year's summer and fall seasons were up 6 percent, and the association has focused much of its advertising dollars on out-of-state markets, according to local news reports.
—Ronald A. Wirtz