Economic Development, Lakeshore, and Travel & Tourism

Muskegon County books record tourism

Hotel occupancy rates crest 50 percent mark for first time in years.

May 26, 2017
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Fishing tournaments, festivals, water sports and more retail and restaurant offerings downtown, as well as a beefed-up sales force at the CVB, are boosting Muskegon’s profile. Courtesy Visit Muskegon

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Tourists are keeping Muskegon County’s hospitality and tourism businesses busy.

For the third year in a row, Visit Muskegon, the county’s convention and visitors bureau, reported growth.

The CVB reported a 4.7 percent increase in accommodations tax collections for the county, which has collected more than $1 million in accommodation tax revenues each year for the past three years. This year, it collected $1.2 million.

This number translates into $24,156,340 in revenues for owners of lodging facilities within Muskegon County, according to the CVB.

“For the first time in many years, Muskegon County had hotel occupancy of over 50 percent,” said Bob Lukens, community development director for Muskegon County.

He said Muskegon County recorded a 51.6 percent occupancy rate for last year with an average daily rate of $99.

Lukens credits a strong sales team with raising Muskegon County’s profile as a place to host meetings, conventions and other events.

“When I first got here, we didn’t have a well-developed sales department, and one of my tasks was to develop the sales department,” he said.

The department went from a single salesperson to three sales executives, each tasked with a different portion of the tourism market.

The team now consists of a group tours salesperson who also handles military events, a meetings and conventions person who focuses on luring state associations and private companies to Muskegon, and a sports and niche market salesperson.

“I think the sales department raised our profile in the state,” Lukens said.

Lukens said recent developments and efforts at rebranding Muskegon also have contributed to the increase in tourism.

“Downtown Muskegon is changing, as are other areas like Whitehall and Montague. There is much more development coming in now,” he said.

He said a growth in residential development, retail shops, restaurants and service offerings are creating a more hospitable environment for visitors.

He also said new industries like craft breweries attract new types of tourists to the community.

“The breweries, when they came in a few years ago, they were huge for our tourism industry,” he said. “Younger people would come in and check out the breweries. This is a new group of younger folks coming into town to see what we can offer here.”

Lukens said Muskegon County also is seeing an increase in sporting events.

“We are focusing a lot more on sports,” he said. “We developed the Lakeshore Sports Commission, which is in its infancy.”

Fishing competitions are another draw. Lukens noted at least 37 fishing tournaments will occur on Muskegon Lake and White Lake.

He also said festivals, fall color tours and marathons draw large numbers of tourists to the area.

Visitors to downtown Muskegon have two choices for accommodations, the Shoreline Inn and the Holiday Inn Muskegon. Combined, they offer 342 rooms.

As far as meeting spaces, the Holiday Inn Muskegon offers approximately 10,000 square feet of meeting space and the Shoreline Inn has just shy of 6,000 square feet of meeting space available.

Lukens said there are a number of standalone banquet spaces in the county, as well.

He said for now, Muskegon is able to meet the convention and visitor demand it is attracting, but he said it could become necessary to add a third hotel.

For that to happen, Muskegon will need to draw visitors beyond the summer months and keep its hotels filled year-round.

“We are seeing more development in the shoulder and winter seasons, and that is what is needed,” Lukens said. “In the summertime, our hotels are virtually sold out, but you can’t sustain a business with just summer revenue.

“We are seeing our fall season growing more, as I think many destinations throughout the state are seeing. September and October are getting more pleasant. We have color tours in the fall and those sorts of events that bring out different travelers — empty nesters and ladies weekends — groups that will come out, stay in our hotels, and do the tours and antique shopping. In addition, we have the festivals and a big farmers market that attracts leisure visitors.

“We have to extend the season along the lakeshore to enable the business owners to realize revenues throughout the year.”

Lukens doesn’t expect the winds to shift any time soon.

“I think we are on an upward trend as far as tourism is concerned and encourage people to take a look at the development that is going on here,” Lukens said.

Tourism is the fourth largest industry in Muskegon County, behind aerospace, health care and agriculture.

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