PROGRESS 2019: Wish you were here! Tourism and the future
Throughout Alpena’s past, present and future, visitation to the community has been and will continue to be a quiet companion.
From the days of traveling to recreational sport shows downstate to promote the area as a “resort of the north,” to the filming of three seasons of the most popular bass fishing show on American television, Alpena has relied (to varying degrees) on tourism to help keep her people clothed and fed.
Going back even further, you’ll discover a time when the public library was the site of a healing mineral spring bath house that attracted celebrities of the day from across the U.S.
How do people discover Alpena? Most visitation to the community occurs as a result of some form of promotional marketing.
The Alpena Area Convention and Visitors Bureau is the official destination marketing and management organization for the Alpena area. All year long, the Bureau works to create and implement a variety of advertising programs, media coverage, TV and film projects, social media campaigns, curating the Sanctuary of the Great Lakes brand, digital promotions, outreach and partnerships.
The purpose of those activities is to bring awareness to the Alpena area as a choice.
Alpena won’t be on anyone’s radar unless they are first introduced to the idea that Alpena exists. From there, efforts are made to align the region’s assets with those interested in such a location for vacation travel, recreation and wellness, business conferences and meetings, relocation, and more.
The Michigan Economic Development Corp. reports that, for every $1 spent on Pure Michigan marketing, more than $10 returns to the state in tax revenues. One out of every 16.5 workers in Michigan is supported by tourism. Overnight leisure travel generates the most significant tourism impact. Food and beverage is one of the highest consumable tourism segments. Outdoor activity and recreation experience is a priority driver for people seeking vacation destinations, and the Alpena area is a shining provider for those types of experiences.
Tourism is a dispersed industry. The presence of visitors is spread out over space and time, making observable awareness difficult. The CVB has made incredible investments over the past six years in marketing campaigns, promotional activities, and partnerships to reach millions of potential visitors nationwide.
Northeast Michigan is especially fortunate to also have many passionate business and attraction operators who work hard to deliver great customer service, products, and experiences.
Tourism does not replace other forms of development, but diversifies an economy.
It wasn’t until recently that tourism started to receive recognition as an important economic engine, often credited with being a driving factor in pulling the state out of the Great Recession.
The jumps in visitor growth are a welcome addition to compliment other forms of economic development. In Northeast Michigan alone, tourism brought $172 million in visitor spending to the area in 2018 and $16.4 million in state and local tax revenue.
During the same time, income and wages for tourism-related employment reached more than $51 million. In Alpena, in the most recent nine years, visitor spending is up 25% overall. Visitor spending includes spending on lodging, retail, food and beverage, transportation, and recreation.
In the past 10 years, increase in overnight visitor travel is up 39.8%, overall.
Overnight visitation is the most lucrative visitation for a community and is a key indicator when analyzing the effectiveness of tourism promotions. Summer season (Northeast Michigan’s most robust visitor season) has been improving by at least 20% each year over the past seven years. Fall is the other season that has shown strong growth year over year. Spring and winter are still steady or fluctuate due to the unpredictable weather (too many blizzards and people cancel reservations, too warm and there isn’t enough snow, too much rain and spring is too muddy, etc.)
The CVB works to strategically increase visitation to the community at a responsible pace.
Potential impacts of over-tourism are in the forefront of planning. To help guide growth, the Bureau follows the principles of Sustainable Tourism Destination Management. While Alpena is not currently bursting at the seams with tourism, the time to responsibly plan for growth is now.
Sustainable tourism is activity that supports what is known as the Triple Bottom Line: people, planet, profit. It seeks opportunities for economic growth while protecting the local quality of life, infrastructure and the natural environment.
Notice that profit is the last in line.
If a project is going to negatively impact the local population or environment to such a degree that it will change ecosystems or the quality of life in the process, then no amount of profit is worth it.
For an entire community to benefit from triple bottom line growth, all must be on the same page with the philosophies and best practices of what sustainable development means.
If not, profit wins and the local population and environment lose.
When a community focuses on its assets and unique character, it creates a true home for residents and a story to share. That story inspires community pride and encourages caretaking of unique features of the collective identity. The marketing of this identity attracts visitors who invest time and money in experiences within the community, injecting revenue to be turned into further infrastructure improvement and quality-of-life enhancement.