More visitors, longer stays: Michigan Tourism shows signs of resurgence

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SAUGATUCK, Mich. (WOOD) — Tourism in Michigan is seeing strong signs of growth over last year when the pandemic and no vaccine protection against COVID-19 kept more people home.  

Saugatuck is already seeing more visitors this year for Memorial Day weekend.  

Lisa Mize, the executive director of the Saugatuck/Douglas Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said her office is also hearing from many planning vacations for later in the season.  

“People are calling asking, ‘Are you open, what’s open, are the stores open, are the restaurants open?’ So we’re getting a lot of calls from other states,” Mize said. 

Downtown Saugatuck. (May 28, 2021)

Hotel bookings are improving with newly vaccinated people eager to plan a trip. 

“People are booking longer stays. They’re booking further into the summer, so July is looking really good for a lot of lodging partners, as is August. A lot of weekends are already full,” Mize said. 

The owners of the historic Twin Oaks Inn in Saugatuck are seeing the shift at their six-room bed and breakfast. Co-owner Molly Fritz says they bought the business in 2019 and saw strong bookings, but in 2020 that slowed and the people who did travel did not seem to stick around. 

“We bought a business which was letting strangers sleep at our house, which was terrifying last year,” Fritz said.  

Keeping up with pandemic protocols also added to the challenges of operating the business. 

“Last year was on the fly, run around, change the rules, let’s do it again. This year you can actually plan,” Fritz said.  

The inn is fully booked for Memorial Day weekend and now seeing bookings for longer stays. 

“Already this year, I’m seeing three- and four-day vacations and five- and six-day vacations and last year was all two-day; nobody was here longer than two days. I just think that was about as much as they could handle,” Fritz said.  

Dave Lorenz, the vice president of Travel Michigan, says while the industry is recovering, it is not yet back to 2019 levels. Last year, the industry saw some improvement later in the season.  

“When they did get out there to travel in the warmer months, things got better for the travel industry up until fall when everything had to shut down again,” Lorenz said. 

Even with the stronger start this year, Lorenz is still seeing some reasonable rates available for hotels.  

“The good thing for travelers is that the cost of your hotel stay is still going to be considerably lower than what you might have expected just two years ago. It takes a while to regain that average daily rate for the travel industry,” Lorenz said. 

A shortage of workers has also meant challenges for the hospitality industry. 

“Some hotels aren’t able to fully open because of a lack of employees so there is this kind of yin and yang. With fewer rooms available because of lack of employees, hotels will be able to fill up quicker for the rooms that are available, which will allow rates to start to rise,” Lorenz said. 

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