Ludington rides the wave of a booming tourism industry
The northern lakeshore community of Ludington charmed a record amount of visitors last year.
Tourism in the area reached a milestone as attendance at a number of events soared and hotels generated more than $12.3 million in room rental income, according to the inaugural tourism report by the Ludington Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Kathy Maclean, executive director of the LACVB, said this is the first year the bureau has compiled the tourism data, which it plans to do on an annual basis.
“We have not tracked the occupancy rate before and that is something we are going to try to work with our lodging facilities on this year, and also on attraction, working with more of them to collect information on how many visitors they had and where the visitors are coming from,” said Maclean.
Hotels in the Ludington area generated more than $12.3 million in room rental income in 2015, a 3.4 percent increase from 2014 and a 30.3 percent increase from 2011, according to LACVB statistics.
“This is a significant milestone for Ludington, validating our strong offering as a tourist destination,” said Maclean.
During the months of July through September alone, Ludington area room rental income reached $7.2 million, which is up 4.9 percent from the same time period in 2014. The month of September 2015 had the largest year-over-year increase with $1.4 million in revenue, which is 18.3 percent higher than September 2014.
“We have continued to increase over the last few years, and it is having a significant impact on our local economy and we are pretty excited about what has been happening here,” said Maclean. “It was one of the reasons we wanted to do (the report) and continue to track it.”
Maclean said, as a result of the growth in tourism, the two larger hotels in Ludington are undergoing “facelifts,” with the former Baymont Inn & Suites being completely gutted and remodeled into a Holiday Inn Express. Ludington’s former Holiday Inn Express will be turned into a Comfort Inn, according to Maclean.
“That alone is a huge investment in our community. We are having new businesses open left and right,” said Maclean. “There are between seven and 10 new businesses slated to open just in downtown Ludington this summer. There are some pretty exciting things we believe are a result of the marketing we have done for our area.”
The LACVB is considered Mason County’s official “destination marketing organization” and promotes the area regionally and nationally. It works with the local business community, community-based organizations and local governing bodies to promote the area as a leisure travel, convention, meeting and wedding destination.
As a CVB, the Ludington organization receives funding from a 5 percent assessment on hotels and motels with 10 or more rooms in the county, and from membership dues.
“The goal of a visitors bureau is to fill hotel rooms because we use the assessment money that comes in from stays in our hotels to market our community,” said Maclean. “People don’t just come to stay in a hotel; they need things to do.”
Some of Ludington’s annual events that experienced either similar attendance numbers to 2014 or had a large increase are the New Year’s Eve celebration, Ludington Offshore Classic, Pure Ludington BRRewfest, Rhythm & Dunes and Suds on the Shore.
Rhythm & Dunes had approximately 10,000 to 12,000 participants in 2015 based on estimates by the Ludington Police Department, up from 8,000 to 10,000 in 2014.
Suds on the Shore, a craft beer and wine festival held in August, had a 13.7 percent increase in attendance up from 2,038 in 2014 to reach more than 2,300 in 2015. Event attendance has grown 143 percent since 2011.
“We have so many events, there is something to do every weekend. It is just unbelievable, even in the shoulder seasons,” said Maclean. “Our BRRewfest doubled in size this year and there were so many people that came from out of town and stayed for the weekend, which is what our goal was, but we were even a little overwhelmed at the amount of people that showed up.”
While the Pure Ludington BRRewfest drew about 400 visitors in 2015, this year’s event brought close to 700 people. Interest in pre-event ticket sales also grew; more than 350 pre-event tickets were sold in 2016 compared to 89 in 2015.
“It was just another reminder that people want to come — they just need a reason. When you create events, whether you are taking advantage of the local resources or have a beer drinking event, it gives people a reason to come,” said Maclean.
Maclean said cultural amenities also are important for attraction, and the organization is working to add to its Lumber Heritage Trail and Sculpture Trail.
Ludington’s outdoor attractions, such as Ludington State Park, drew more than 800,000 visitors in 2015 and had the highest number of camp-nights booked in the past five years, at more than 46,000 nights.
“We believe the more visitors that we have, it directly relates to more restaurants being needed, more stores for people to shop in and more services. It benefits our locals, as well,” said Maclean. “I also think people … visit and fall in love and a lot of times end up buying a second home and retiring up here. I think as that continues, we continue to grow and our community continues to grow.”
LACVB’s report also tracked: information about the Pure Ludington app, which has had more than 2,800 downloads since it launched in 2013; foot traffic in the downtown visitor center, which declined slightly from 2014 to 2015; and PureLudington.com, which had more than 187,000 unique visitors from May 1-Aug. 31, 2015.
“We’ve seen a shift over the past five years in where, when and how people get their information about Ludington as people migrate to online tools in addition to printed guides and in-person information gathering,” said Maclean. “We’re doing a better job of getting people information about Ludington before they get here.”
The LACVB also distributed 80,000 Pure Ludington Visitor Guides throughout the state in 2015, which is up from 65,000 in 2014.