Travel Outlooks Foresee Summer Rebound

May 31, 2002
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Two new outlooks see modest growth this summer in travel and travel-related spending in Michigan, with the tourism industry rebounding from a tough year in 2001 as the economy slowly recovers and more people opt to take a trip.

AAA Michigan projects a 3 percent increase in both summer travel volumes and spending levels. The auto club’s outlook is based on a survey of state residents that found a 10-percentage point increase over last year in the number of people who plan to take a summer vacation during 2002.

Another outlook — this one issued by Travel Michigan, the state agency responsible for promoting Michigan’s $11.5 billion tourism industry — projects a 3 percent to 4 percent increase in travel volume this summer, mirroring an earlier outlook from Michigan State University’s Travel, Tourism and Recreation Resource Center that also anticipates 5 percent to 6 percent growth in travel spending in 2002.

The state’s tourism industry saw spending fall 5 percent during 2001, even as volumes grew 3.9 percent — the worst showing in recent memory and a reflection of the recession and Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Travel Michigan’s 2002 outlook is based on MSU’s research and an online survey of 2,000 people nationwide conducted in April. The survey found that 80 percent of respondents expect to travel more this summer than they did last year, with more than one-third of those saying they plan to cut back on air travel and many respondents saying they expect to travel farther by car and increase their overnights stays.

That could prove beneficial for Michigan’s tourism economy, which is largely based on drive-to destinations.

Early indications show the summer shaping up as a solid travel season.

Lodging reservations in the Grand Haven area for this summer are running above last year’s pace, said Laurel Nease of the Grand Haven-Spring Lake Area Visitors Bureau.

In Holland inquiries for information on lodging, events and attractions are ahead of last year, said Sally Laukitis, executive director of the Holland Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. Early lodging reservations are steady with 2001’s pace, Laukitis said.

Laukitis is unsure whether the forecasts for growth in travel volumes and spending will pan out, saying “it’s a little bit optimistic at this stage in the game.” By far the biggest determining factor, as always, is the weather.

Changes in travel trends also make it increasingly difficult to gauge the future based on early indicators. People are increasingly making their travel plans closer to when they actually travel or at the last minute, the latter of which is often based on the forecast for the coming week or weekend.

“If you get nice weather and somebody decides on Thursday they’re coming on Friday, we have no way to plan for that,” Laukitis said.

Laukitis anticipates the travel window will close even further this year, given the lingering sentiments from the Sept. 11 attacks and concerns about future attacks.

“People are just playing it a little closer to their chest and a little closer to home,” she said.

Adding to the local travel economy’s prospects this year is a cooperative marketing campaign that six shoreline communities — Holland, Grand Haven and Muskegon among them — launched with Travel Michigan to promote beach destinations to travelers in the Indianapolis market.

The Holland visitors bureau has already seen an increase in the number of inquiries coming from the Indiana market, Laukitis said. The campaign began in mid-April and runs through July 15.

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