Friday, September 9, 2016

Lenawee County's 2016 tourism season up over previous years

Although hard numbers comparing this year to last year still are being tallied, people supported Lenawee County-area businesses and festivals in increasing numbers. That translates into a stronger economy and revenue stream.
This summer season — which ends this weekend — was one of the best economic times in recent memory, officials and business owners around the county have reported.
Although hard numbers comparing this year to last year still are being tallied, people supported Lenawee County-area businesses and festivals in increasing numbers. That translates into a stronger economy and revenue stream.
From the Faster Horses three-day country music festival at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn to the Rockin’ the Hills craft beer festival at Manitou Beach, people came to Lenawee County, or stayed local, in increasing numbers.
Tourism traffic also was up at Hayes State Park in northern Lenawee County, park manager Jim O’Brien said.
“We did exceptionally well this season,” he said. “We are up, revenue-wise, about 16 percent over last year, and attendance is up considerably as well.”
The economy, as well as favorable weather, O’Brien said, were contributing factors.
“The beach is a huge draw and one of our improvements is a partnership with the Irish Hills Dairy offering concessions there,” he said.
The use of rental boats and rafts also are up, O’Brien said, and the park’s two boat launches “are getting a great deal of usage.”
Economic officials weigh in
Justin Gifford, executive director of the Lenawee County Conference and Visitors Bureau in Adrian, said tourism interest in the area is rising, and three of the six main hotels in the area have reported occupancy increases this year.
“There is an increased interest from tourists and vendors for the larger events in the county,” Gifford said, with music, beer and wine and the arts becoming more popular categories.
“Faster Horses is continually growing, and the craft beer and wine scene has brought in a lot of outside interest,” he said. “It will be interesting to see what happens next year.”
One tourism idea the bureau is examining is bringing bus tours to Lenawee County.
“We’re currently working on tour bus interests here and working with two groups from Ohio to cater to the tour group market,” Gifford said. “We would like to see more tour groups here, something that would take two to three years to grow. We’re seeing lots of interest in our area from Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Minnesota, not just Ohio and Indiana.”
Although hard data on local economic numbers has not been available in the past, Gifford said he will examine tourism data with Michigan State University economic officials as part of a strategic plan to “allow us as the Lenawee County Conference and Visitors Bureau to provide statistics.”
At any given time during the day, Tecumseh Economic Development Director Paula Holtz said, her city’s sidewalks “see more shoppers than before.”
“With a new brew pub, an ice cream shop open in the evening, antiques and vintage stores,” Holtz said, “Tecumseh is truly becoming a destination town.”
Being part of the state’s “Pure Michigan” campaign is paying off, Holtz said.
“When we talk to people who come visit Tecumseh,” she said, “we’re finding many come from the downriver area and up for a day trip.”
With more downtown apartments becoming available, Holtz said, “it all ties together to make a better economy.”
Brooklyn-Irish Hills Chamber of Commerce Director Cindy Hubbell said phone calls to her office asking about local things to do “have not slowed down all summer.”
“ ‘I’d like to come to the Irish Hills’ is the statement I hear most when people call,” Hubbell said. “They are looking for accommodations, places to eat, events, recommended day trips, shopping and lake recreation.”
She said the number of inquiries by out-of-town visitors has “more than doubled over last year.”
“Lots of families are looking for things to do, spending quality time,” she said.
Hudson City Manager Steve Hartsel said “multiple people” have been coming to the municipal office asking about coming to office asking about things to do in the area.
“We’ve never had that kind of foot traffic before,” he said. “Visitors are coming in, asking about our walking trails and places to shop.”
Business owners: Tourism, support up
Robin Sagenak, owner of Rob’s Rentals at Manitou Beach, said the 2016 season, “has been our busiest season yet.”
But things have changed. He said incoming tourists are no longer just from Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, compared to when he opened his watercraft rental business five years ago.
“We’ve seen an influx of people coming to our area from New York, California, Florida,” he said, “and I see a lot of people making ties from when they grew up here — they’re grandparents bringing their grandchildren and younger families checking out the area.”
B.J. Andonian, owner of Jerry’s Pub and Restaurant along Wamplers Lake, said his business “had a great summer.”
“We are up about 10 percent over last year,” he said. “It’s been perfect summer weather.”
Menu changes, a “great staff” at the restaurant and “second-to-none” quality of life in the Irish Hills, Andonian said, have helped make his business a “destination spot.”
And customers sometimes talk more than just visiting the area.
“We’ve had a lot more people inquiring about houses for sale in the area,” Andonian said.
That’s where Darlene Heller, owner of Devils Lake View Living in the Manitou Beach village district, comes in. She said she estimates business at her shop has increased approximately 15 percent over last year.
She credits new events and the farmers market at the lake for creating a larger, happier economic picture there.
“The word has spread about the village and redevelopment of the community,” Heller said.
The summer also has been good for Susan Serafin, owner of Dip Stix and Stuff in Tecumseh. Some of that, she said, comes from a new partnership with Pentamere Winery.
“Even weekdays are better than they have been in the last couple years,” Serafin said, who opened her business in Tecumseh five years ago and joined forces with the winery two years ago.
“When people found out we have a gourmet food shop here, they liked the idea of pairing wine and foods together,” Serafin said. “They’re wanting items specifically for wine tasting.”
With gas prices moving downward, Serafin said, Tecumseh is becoming more and more of a destination town.
“Our majority of visiting customers are from Bowling Green and Toledo, Ohio; Monroe, Jackson and Detroit,” she said.


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