Home Tourism Michigan tourism experts ‘cautiously optimistic’ about travel rebound in 2022

Michigan tourism experts ‘cautiously optimistic’ about travel rebound in 2022

Michigan tourism experts ‘cautiously optimistic’ about travel rebound in 2022

After two years of canceled events, variant waves and unpredictable travel restrictions, tourism experts in Michigan beachtowns are feeling “cautiously optimistic” ahead of 2022’s summer season.

Holland, located on the shores of Lake Macatawa with a man-made channel to Lake Michigan, anticipates tourism numbers will surpass 2019.

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“We expect this year is going to be a big rebound year,” said Linda Hart, executive director of the Holland Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Holland’s major annual event is Tulip Time, a festival that celebrates that town’s Dutch heritage with dancing, parades and thousands of colorful tulips. The festival was canceled in 2020 and pared-down in 2021. But, this year, Holland is marketing a return to normal.

“We already have a handful of hotels that are either sold out or close to being sold out for the two weekends of Tulip Time,” Hart said. “In the past, we’d be pretty full right now, but I don’t know that we’ve ever seen the lack of availability on the weekends this early. It’s a great sign.”

It helps, Hart said, that Holland has so many outdoor activities.

“I think outdoor as the new attraction is going to continue,” she said. “Those who discovered all the activities you can do outside, it’s a new hobby for our visitors to take advantage of. Biking is huge in our community. We have a great infrastructure, with over 4,000 acres of hiking and biking trails. I absolutely think that’s going to continue.”

Linda Hart of the Holland Area Visitors Bureau is anticipating a rebound in 2022, following two years of cancellations and unpredictable travel restrictions.

Meanwhile, in Petoskey — along Little Traverse Bay, which also connects to Lake Michigan — Jim Powell is “cautiously optimistic” the city will see some return to normal this summer, in part because of its outdoor attractions.

“If not (normal), we’ll continue to see a little bit of growth, just due to the nature of our destination,” Powell, executive director of the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau, said. “I speak specifically of the Petoskey area because of the access to the outdoors and those activities and amenities we have continues to be a great place for people to spend time that want to be outdoors.”

Hotels in Petoskey are already filling up as people start planning their summer trips. Powell recommends making a reservation sooner rather than later — especially for weekend getaways. 

Powell also suggests keeping a close eye on the visitors bureau website at petoskeyarea.com for news of cancellations. Hart, similarly, recommends visitors call ahead to their favorite merchants and restaurants.

“Some businesses will request you wear a mask,” she said. “Since we don’t have a mask mandate, we want to help educate people on where we stand as a community, as far as cases go. While many of our attractions are outside, and that’s a great comfort, it’s always important to call ahead. We try to stay informed and keep our visitors informed.”

‘March to the waterfront’

In terms of improvements and investments, 2022 is pivotal for Holland’s longtime “march to the waterfront,” with a proposal on the table from Geenen DeKock Properties to transform a large section of the Lake Macatawa waterfront into a mixed-use development with cruise ship docking, housing and commercial offerings.

“We’re very excited,” Hart said. “It would be great to get the cruise ship industry back to Holland. Muskegon will see well over 30 ships in their community this season, and we don’t mind bringing passengers down to Holland from there, but we’d love to have full-day excursions back. This could also be a smooth transition right to the waterfront.”

The plan is currently undergoing an initial review process. Holland residents will have a chance to weigh-in, should the plan move forward, as a special election is required to authorize the sale of the power plant that would make the development possible.

People of all ages line the streets of downtown Petoskey waiting for the Fourth of July parade to kick off on Sunday, July 4.

Preparing for all possibilities

While recovery is expected, it’s not a given — and 2022 is extremely important for Michigan tourist towns, particularly in terms of labor.

“We were fortunate to do as well as we did,” Hart said. “The labor shortage had a huge impact on us. Restaurants and merchants couldn’t stay open seven days a week, and that’s still going on largely now. I think having a successful summer is going to help in our recovery as a community — but that also includes getting the labor market back where it needs to be.”

Powell added 2022 will be a critical year for Petoskey because of the major role tourism and hospitality play in the local economy.

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“This is a long road that we’re all on and you don’t know what can or can’t happen,” he said. “I mean, certainly, as you reflect back on before the holidays, the Omicron variant really threw a curve. Fortunately, we’re in the process of coming out of that, but you have no idea what will happen down the road here in the next couple of months. 

“I think we all need to be, like I said earlier, cautiously optimistic about what could happen this summer, but also be prepared to deal with any challenges that may come our way.”

— Contact reporter Cassandra Lybrink at cassandra.lybrink@hollandsentinel.com and reporter Tess Ware at tware@petoskeynews.com.


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