Building The Winter Dimension Of Tourism

October 20, 2004
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MUSKEGON — Building business outside of the traditional busy summer season tops the agenda for the new chief of Muskegon County's tourism bureau.

Echoing a common goal of many tourism promoters in Michigan, Sam Wendling sees potential in creating events and better promoting attractions that can draw visitors to the area during the fall and winter.

Boosting fall color tours and fishing tournaments, as well as leveraging the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex that features one of the nation's few luge tracks, are some of the examples he offers.

"We do extremely well in the summer months," Wendling said. "But we want to work hard on the off-season events and make it a season of its own."

Wendling, 59, was named the permanent director of tourism development for Muskegon Country on Sept. 28.

He had served in the position on an interim basis since April, when Joanne Hatch left to become marketing director for Lake Express, the firm that in June launched high-speed, cross-lake ferry service between Muskegon and Milwaukee.

Wendling's goals also include better leveraging the Lake Express and Michigan's Adventure Amusement Park — one of the largest tourist attractions in western Michigan — to lure more people to the area.

He credits the ferry, which consistently sold out its three daily runs across the lake, with boosting the county's tourism economy this summer. As the tourism industry statewide experienced a disappointing season, collections from a countywide room assessment in Muskegon County grew 2 percent this summer, he said.

He anticipates the Muskegon County Convention & Visitors Bureau will again participate with its counterparts in the region next year in two marketing partnerships: Beachtowns and Michigan's West Coast.

In terms of generating Internet activity, Beachtowns was by far the most successful of the nine marketing partnership CVBs around the state organized in 2004 in collaboration with Travel Michigan.

"It was dynamite for us," Wendling said.

In taking over at the Muskegon County CVB, Wendling is adding to his duties as the county's community development director, a position he's held for 20 years.

After Hatch left, budget constraints led Muskegon County commissioners to consolidate the tourism development and community development positions.

The move will save the county an estimated $80,000 annually.

The move made not just fiscal sense, but practical sense as well, since the two positions have shared goals and interests, Wendling said.

"The relationship was there, so it was an opportunity to merge the two and save some dollars at the same time," said Wendling, who's been involved in tourism development for several years.

A life-long resident of Muskegon County, Wendling welcomed the opportunity to devote time and to help build the locally tourism economic sector.

"Anything I can do to promote and improve my county … I love it," he said.

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