Sustaining people, planet, profit

The Michigan Economic Development Corp. reports that, for every $1 spent on Pure Michigan marketing, $10.79 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.

Tourism is a dispersed industry, spread out over space and time, making obvious awareness difficult. The Alpena Area Convention and Visitors Bureau is the official organization tasked with marketing the whole package of what can be experienced within the region to an audience outside of the region. 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, as well as providing support to local organizations working to bring meetings, conferences, and other events to the area. Northeast Michigan is especially fortunate to also have many passionate business and attraction operators that market themselves individually to stand out and 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 received recognition as a legitimate sector. The jumps in visitor growth are a welcome addition to compliment other forms of economic development. Tourism brought $172 million in visitor spending to Northeast Michigan in 2018.

How do you manage tourism growth?

The best way to answer that question is with focused, proactive strategy: 1.) Emphasize genuine assets, don’t invent gimmicks or try to copy, and, 2.) More isn’t always better.

As a resident and the community’s tourism authority, I know we want to evolve authentically and at a rate residents are comfortable with. The CVB is acutely aware of potential impacts of over-tourism and, to help guide growth, I recently completed an intensive program with George Washington University’s International Institute of Tourism Studies to become certified in Sustainable Tourism Destination Management.

We are not currently bursting at the seams with tourism. We have a lot more room for growth, and the time to responsibly plan for it 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. One caveat being that all entities within a community play a role in the big picture of growth, and a better understanding of that role will help maintain character and protect unique assets.

Risk versus reward questions to ask when determining if something is sustainable and responsible:

1. How will this impact our local population, both residents’ quality of life and current business operators?

2. How will this impact our infrastructure and environment?

3. Will the financial gain empower residents and maintain viability? Or is it a financial disruption not worth the risk?

Just a few on-the-ground examples that lean toward sustainable and responsible practices:

∫ The Fresh Palate restaurant and Nucleus Lounge offer paper straws and biodegradable to-go containers sourced locally from Eagle Supply.

∫ Thunder Bay Winery offers metal straws instead of plastic, for sparkling wine drinks.

∫ The Courtyard Restaurant grows a vegetable garden on-site, for fresh ingredients to use in their homemade recipes.

∫ The Charter Township of Alpena maintains a nature preserve on Misery Bay that offers many unique opportunities to witness a sensitive environmental area that preserves endangered flora and fauna. Allowing responsible access to sensitive environments is a critical step to helping people understand the important value of wildlife conservation.

∫ Attractions like the Presque Isle lighthouses and the Lady Michigan glass-bottom boat offer tours in spring and fall to help spread summer visitation into shoulder seasons.

∫ Negwegon State Park, Thompson’s Harbor State Park, and Rockport State Recreation Area are official State of Michigan Dark Sky Preserves, appealing to visitors who are respectful of the environment.

∫ Businesses like Blue Phoenix Books, My Glass Wings, Rusty Petunias, and the soon-to-open Bark & Ophie collaborate on shared retail space, allowing for resource savings while providing entrepreneurs an opportunity to grow their business.

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 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. Great places to live are great places to visit. Great places to live and visit are great places to do business.

We all play an important role in keeping our community vibrant.