Column: Building Upper Peninsula tourism

ESCANABA — Tourism is having a great impact on the economy of the Upper Peninsula and has been on a positive trend in the past decade. Areas around the Upper Peninsula have been featured on a national level in the news, on television shows, and in international magazines, as well as successful digital marketing campaigns on the internet. The natural beauty of the Upper Peninsula drives people to find out more about our area. Exposure like this comes when you have a great product and we certainly do.

We also have the support of one of the most successful tourism brands of all time Pure Michigan. Travel Michigan runs the Pure Michigan campaign and they regularly feature views of the Upper Peninsula in their work and attract visitors from around the globe. Due to the success of the Pure Michigan campaign, the Hannahville Indian Community requested that a portion of the revenue funds they share with the state, approximately $500,000 per year, be used primarily through the Pure Michigan campaign to increase Upper Peninsula tourism. This support drives new visitors and commerce to our region supporting local businesses, jobs, and future development.

Visit Escanaba works in conjunction with successful tourism marketing organizations, like Travel Michigan and UP Travel, to help inform potential visitors about Delta County and give them reasons to visit our area as part of their Pure Michigan and Upper Peninsula vacation.

Over the past year we have been able to greatly increase our digital footprint online and reach a lot of new people with videos, pictures, and information about Delta County. In 2018 we ran digital ads online that generated over 26 million impressions telling people to visit the Escanaba area. These ads drove people to our website and increased web traffic by 115 percent over the previous year, more than doubling the people looking at information on our site. Our social media channels also regularly hit 200,000 to 300,000 people a month with videos and information about local events and attractions. This year we will build on these numbers and reach even more people online by devoting more resources into this successful approach.

In addition to successful advertising campaigns, our area is improving its marketability with new infrastructure projects that are drawing visitors and will drive future marketing plans. Developments to our trail systems and parks as well as new businesses coming to the region are giving visitors more reason to stop in Delta County as they travel through this beautiful area.

One of the upcoming projects that will support the positive wave of momentum we are experiencing is the construction of the new UP Welcome Center on the UP State Fairgrounds that will be completed this summer. This multi-use facility is in a prime location on US 2 and 41 where visitors can stop in and get information about areas to visit in the U.P. It will also house the U.P. Veterans Museum and the Webster Marble museum as added value for tourists that want to find out more about U.P. heritage. This building project comes at a perfect time when we will be experiencing more new visitors and potential new residents. The project adds value to local businesses and real estate that will help grow our local economy and provide more opportunities for people in our community.

Thanks to the John and Melissa Besse Foundation and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, this project is almost completely funded already. With under 25% of the funding still needed, a fundraising campaign will begin later this month to complete the project on time and so it can start providing value back to the community as soon as possible. One of our greatest assets is the very supportive community members that drive local development projects, and I have no doubt this campaign will successfully raise the needed funds very quickly because of this.

With all the positive momentum in U.P. tourism, now might be the perfect time for you to find out more about this industry and how you can be a part of it. Attend the UP-Tourism Conference coming to the Island Showroom on May 21 to connect with industry experts and find out more. Whether you have a tourism business, looking to buy one, or want to pursue a career in this field, the tourism conference will help you.

If you would like more information on corporate or personal donations to the Welcome Center and Museum Project or to find out more about the Upper Peninsula Tourism Conference, call the Delta County Commerce Center at (906) 786-2192.

We are in a great time and place to grow the local and regional economy and develop our area for generations to come and tourism will be a significant driver. Growth and development will bring in new jobs, more local revenue, and fun new attractions to our area that will add to our quality of life and attract new talent. Thank you for supporting our community and making this a wonderful place and I know many of you are as excited as I am to see where we will go.

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Robert Micheau is executive director of Visit Escanaba