Tourism Firms Pledge To Back Long Weekend

June 24, 2002
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They got what they wanted. Now travel- and tourism-related businesses need to step up and begin taking advantage of a permanent four-day Labor Day weekend, says the head of a regional trade group.

A survey the Grand Rapids-based West Michigan Tourist Association conducted in October shows that less than one in five tourism-based businesses promoted the extended holiday weekend this year. Those businesses reported “significant gains” in length of stays, visitor volumes and sales over the 2001 Labor Day weekend, association President Linda Singer said.

With recent legislative action to make the Labor Day weekend a permanent four-day holiday by requiring schools to close that Friday, Michigan’s tourism industry needs to do more to take advantage of the opportunity it has been given, Singer said.

“This is something we need to work on,” she said. “Our job now is to say, ‘Remember we have a four-day weekend and we want to promote this because it can be a big-buck weekend.’”

The state Senate on Nov. 6 unanimously passed a bill permanently requiring schools to close the Friday prior to Labor Day. Gov. John Engler is expected to sign the bill, spokesman Matt Resh said.

The measure removes a sun-setting provision from a similar 3-year, temporary law enacted in 1999 that was due to expire after Labor Day 2002.

Legislators’ original intent was to study the effects of the temporary measure before deciding whether to make it permanent. But lawmakers who support the change opted last spring to go ahead and remove the sun-setting provision this year, saying the move allows schools to plan their calendars well in advance.

The goal of the law, which represented a compromise between tourism and education interests when it was enacted on a temporary basis, is to provide a late-season boost to the state’s $11 billion tourism industry through a four-day Labor Day weekend. Proponents say that families and individuals are more apt to travel during a four-day weekend.

With increasing state mandates, schools for years have been pushing up the start of classes into late August. The net result for tourism operators was a significant drop in business by mid-August, as families move into a back-to-school mode and high school- and college-age employees prepare to head back to class.

Surveys taken following Labor Day in 2000 and 2001 found that tourism-related businesses experienced higher volumes over 1999, before the law was passed. Sixty-one percent of the businesses responding to this year’s survey indicated visitor traffic was up over 1999. Fifty-three percent of the respondents put the increase at between 1 percent and 9 percent for the weekend, while 31 percent indicated an increase of 10 percent to 20 percent.

For sales activity, 57 percent of the respondents showed an increase during the 2001 four-day weekend, as compared to 1999. Thirty-eight percent of those indicated an increase of between 1 percent and 9 percent. Another 30 percent reported increased sales of 10 percent to 20 percent.

Those increases came even as only 16 percent of the respondents who were surveyed said they promoted the extended holiday weekend. Sixty percent said they would do so next year, although a similar percentage indicated the same thing after Labor Day in 2000, and that expectation didn’t pan out.

“I don’t think it was taken seriously,” Singer said of the temporary law.

With the law now permanent, Singer believes more businesses will promote the extended weekend and that pressure will grow for employers to give parents the day off to spend with their children. She also anticipates that a push will eventually resurface to completely prohibit schools from opening before Labor Day.

“I’m sure the pressure is going to return,” Singer said. “I don’t think that push will ever go away.”

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