Trevor Tkach: When is tourism more than tourism?

The Traverse City area continues to bask in the glory of a successful tourism economy, which shouldn’t come as a shock.

Traverse City Tourism, the Convention and Visitors Bureau for the area, receives assessment dollars collected by a number of hotels, resorts, bed and breakfasts, and vacation rental companies in the region. It uses those dollars to market the destination.

Early indicators show that assessment collection is on the rise as much as 4 to 5 percent over last year in the Traverse City area. Additionally, it appears that a significant part of that growth is linked to increased demand in the spring and fall. This is a good sign for business owners and employees who have traditionally been overdependent on summer business.

A surge in assessment collection clearly represents growth in the lodging industry, and arguably it is a reasonable reference tool for predicting growth in other industries including transportation, restaurants, entertainment venues, casinos, retailers and more.

But what about the dozens of other industries essential to life in Northern Michigan? Does the nebulous category of tourism have an impact on more than just the tourism economy?

Traditionally, there has been a standard theory on the matter: Even if you aren’t a part of the tourism economy, your customers, clients and patients depend on tourism — so you do too.

To put it another way, a dollar earned through tourism will be a dollar spent again in the market for goods and services. This is likely true. But the explanation oversimplifies and likely trivializes what tourism really means to our region, and why it has been and will continue to be a critical component in economic development.

In a day and age when many are asking for national, state and local tourism investments to be justified, it’s important that we consider more than just the superficial impact of destination marketing and take a closer look at its place in the greater economy.

Because justification of destination marketing is such a hot topic around the country right now, Longwoods International USA, Inc. recently re-distributed its article entitled “A Perfect Combination” at a U.S. Travel conference this year. In the article, Longwoods articulates its findings from a survey it conducted of more than 18,000 consumers regarding destination marketing campaigns and how they impact decision making in categories other than tourism.

To summarize, the survey showed that consumers who were exposed to a destination marketing campaign and/or visited that destination were more inclined to consider going to college there, retiring there, and living there.

Further, those who had been exposed to a campaign and had visited the destination were 194 percent more likely to consider it a good place to start a business as opposed to the consumers who had experienced neither. And 163 percent were more likely to think it was a good place to start a career, too.

Destination marketing organizations like Traverse City Tourism and statewide travel campaigns like Pure Michigan carry greater importance to the economy than just tourism.

They conjure feelings of satisfaction and fulfillment for both residents and visitors — feelings that we all desire with every decision we make.

Regional tourism clearly is greater than the sum of its parts. Continued support for tourism is essential for a strong economy moving forward.

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