Festivals help Ludington log record tourist season
Convention and Visitors Bureau reports $12.4 million in room rental income for 2016 — the highest number in its history.
More people than ever stayed in Ludington last year, drawn by a two-day concert called Rhythm & Dunes, the Gus Macker basketball tournament, two beer festivals, the state park and municipal marina, and numerous summer and offseason events.
Kathy Maclean, executive director of the Ludington Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, or Pure Ludington, said that in 2016, the LACVB’s member hotels generated $12,468,544 in room rental income — the highest year for room rental income in Ludington — up slightly from 2015 at $12,438,093 and up 31.1 percent from 2011.
Room rental income is the primary metric Pure Ludington uses to measure tourism activity, and the LACVB collects the data from member hotels. Actual room rental income is higher if nonmember hotels are included.
Maclean attributes the increase in hotel stays over the past five years partly to an increase in marketing spending by the LACVB.
“Our hotel room assessment went from 2 percent to 5 percent (in 2011),” she said. “We’re able now to have over half a million dollars that we spend on marketing our community. That has had a huge impact. It’s gotten the word out there.”
A room assessment is a fee the area hotels have voted to levy on their guests, which the hotels pass on to the LACVB for use in Pure Ludington marketing campaigns. According to state law, CVBs in Michigan may charge up to 5 percent room assessments. Many along Michigan’s west coast opt for the maximum percentage.
Pure Ludington uses the funds in radio, television, print and digital advertising regionally and throughout the Midwest, purchasing bus wraps in places like Chicago and maintaining a website and a mobile app about the area’s offerings.
Maclean said most of Ludington’s tourists come from Grand Rapids, Lansing, Detroit, Chicago, Indiana and Wisconsin.
“The people from Wisconsin came across the car ferry in droves every day,” she said.
Among the events drawing visitors to Ludington last summer was the inaugural Love Ludington weekend. On June 11-12, 15,000 to 18,000 people came to town for attractions, such as a Guinness World Record attempt for the Longest Ice Cream Dessert, which Ludington achieved with a sundae that measured a half-mile long.
The weekend festivities were designed to keep tourists in town who come each year for the Ludington Lakestride half-marathon and do not usually stay.
Maclean said the race boosted its numbers in 2016, with 998 participating runners, an increase from 940 in 2015.
“(Love Ludington) started with Lakestride and the idea of the world record and then just was about creating a critical mass of things going on that weekend,” she said. “With Lakestride, we used to have people come in and not stay for the whole weekend.
“Now, people are looking forward to what’s going on that weekend.”
Love Ludington will continue in 2017 with a “Be Someone’s Angel” Guinness World Record attempt for the Most Sand Angels on June 10 at Stearns Park Beach. The event will benefit the Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital Cancer Service Center.
“We’ve definitely seen attendance at all the events (in) record numbers,” Maclean said. “The ones that are fundraisers have done really well.”
Another such fundraiser was the third annual Pure Ludington BRRRewfest in late January, where 100 percent of the proceeds went to the Friends of Ludington State Park. The festival saw a 75 percent increase in attendance last year, from 400 people in 2015 to 700 people in 2016.
Ludington State Park last year led Michigan’s approximately 100 state parks with the highest number of camp nights booked among all state park campgrounds in 2016, at 48,284.
The park attracted 849,703 visitors in 2016, including 624,725 day users, a 7.4 percent increase in visitors from 2015.
The record-setting events aren’t limited to peak season. The town’s New Year’s Eve ball drop saw its largest crowd yet in its eight-year history, at 15,000, up by 50 percent from 10,000 in 2015. The CVB theorizes this was due to a strong publicity push and the cancelation of Grand Rapids’ ball drop.
Suds on the Shore beer festival had 3,000 attendees in 2016, up 29 percent from 2,316 attendees in 2015.
The two-day Rhythm & Dunes concert had its best attendance yet in 2016, bringing in approximately 12,000 to 14,000 people in 2016, up more than 15 percent from 2014 when 10,000 to 12,000 attended.
Gus Macker drew a full crowd for its 25th anniversary year, with 836 teams 3,344 players and 10,000 to 15,000 fans — up from 783 teams and 3,132 players in 2015 (the number of fans stayed the same).
Maclean said the LACVB projects another strong season in 2017, with the June 10 opening of the Port of Ludington Maritime Museum, expected to draw 10,000 visitors, and the Big Sable Point Lighthouse 150th anniversary celebration from May through October.
A retired executive from Rockford-based Wolverine Worldwide, Ted Gedra, plans to open the Ludington Bay Brewing Company in mid-May, which Maclean predicts will be a big draw, too.
“We’re hearing from our hoteliers and lodging facilities that reservations are strong,” she said. “Ludington clearly is a favorite destination on people’s Michigan bucket lists. It’s especially impressive for our size to have this variety of activities and annual events that draw all types of visitors.
“(There’s) something for everyone — from the outdoor lover to the craft beer enthusiast to the beach goer.”
“As strong as last year was for tourism, we don’t see visitor numbers letting up any time soon.”