Cool temps don’t chill U.P. tourism

ESCANABA – Despite a cold spring and lingering cooler temperatures, tourism experts believe that signs indicate this year’s summer tourist season is doing OK.

Due to the way the number of visitors staying at hotels in the Upper Peninsula are recorded, hard numbers are not yet available, but according to Tom Nemacheck, executive director of the Upper Peninsula Travel and Recreation Association, there have been few complaints from those in the tourism industry.

“The good thing is I haven’t heard any complaints, and if I don’t hear any complaints from people in the tourism industry that usually means things are OK,” he said.

Some in the tourism industry are noting the cooler temperatures may have had a negative impact on visitors this season, but even those in the industry are reporting very different experiences this season.

“A couple (of hotels) were saying it’s been a little slower than usual, and then I head from one that it was their best summer ever,” said Rick Elrod, marketing assistant for the Bays de Noc Convention and Visitors Bureau.

While cooler temperatures may have an impact on summer vacation plans for many families, the tourists who are most affected by cooler temperatures or inclement weather are visitors who are only visiting for a few days or are traveling to the U.P. on a whim.

“It’s more the weekend getaway people that the cooler weather really affects. If they have a four or five day trip planned they’re coming up no matter what,” said Nemacheck.

And people are coming up. According to the Mackinac Bridge Authority, 382,191 vehicles crossed the Mackinac Bridge during June – up from 380,202 in June of 2013. In addition to the 0.5 percent increase in traffic for June, fare revenue is up 0.7 percent from last year.

“The bridge represents roughly half of the visitors that come to the Upper Peninsula. The other half of visitors come up from Wisconsin,” said Nemacheck.

The vast majority of tourists that visit the U.P. come from areas like Lower Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Minnesota, and Ohio. Roughly 90 percent of all visitors to the U.P. come from locations within six or seven hours by car.

The prime months for the summer tourism season are July and August, with July being the more important of the two. While August still provides travelers with warm weather and plenty of local events, many families opt for trips in July so that there is still time for back-to-school shopping and preparing for the school year to begin.

“We don’t have any real numbers yet, but we’ll just wait and see what happens in July,” said Nemacheck, who noted the hard numbers for hotel stays in July won’t be available until August.

In downtown Escanaba, retailers are reporting that sales are down this summer, however the decline in sales may be related to local shoppers spending their money elsewhere and not directly tied to a lack of tourists frequenting Ludington Street.

Elrod hopes local events will help bring tourists to Escanaba’s downtown as well as the rest of the city. This week between 6,000 and 9,000 people are expected to visit the city for the 55th Annual National Trappers Convention & Outdoor Expo, and fishing tournaments later in the summer – including the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship with a top prize of $100,000 – are expected to bring in others who enjoy the outdoors.

The U.P. State Fair, a staple of summertime in Escanaba, is also expected to draw large crowds. Last year, upwards of 80,000 people visited the fair and equal or greater numbers are expected this year.