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Column: Delta County tourism update

ESCANABA — Are you enjoying the winter weather in Delta County this year? While many celebrate the mild winter, it’s important to acknowledge its impact on local businesses. Our region, known as the “banana belt,” doesn’t receive as much snow as other parts of the Upper Peninsula. However, every year, we welcome visitors seeking outdoor activities like ice fishing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling during the winter months.

Unfortunately, with the absence of snow and unusual ice conditions this year, we’ve noticed a decrease in leisure travelers visiting our community so far in 2024. This decline in winter tourism presents a challenge for businesses that rely on seasonal visitors.

Despite this setback, the tourism industry in Delta County has shown impressive growth in recent years. Since 2017, our area has experienced over double the amount of tourism dollars annually compared to previous years. This consistent growth trajectory was briefly interrupted in 2020 due to travel restrictions, but 2023 marked another year of steady progress.

In 2023, visits to Delta County increased by 17.2%, with overnight stays rising by 13.9% compared to the previous year, which itself was a record-breaking year. These figures were compiled from geographic movement data obtained from cellphone signals. By analyzing this data, we discovered that two of the most popular attractions in Delta County, the U.P. State Fairgrounds and Fayette Historic State Park, experienced nearly a 20% increase in visitors year over year.

According to data from Placer.ai, over 165,000 people visited the fairgrounds in 2023, while Fayette Historic State Park welcomed more than 45,000 visitors. Overall, 356,000 visitors arrived in Delta County in 2023 and stayed for over 900,000 nights with an estimated visitors’ spending potential of 150 million dollars. This upward trend is a promising sign for Delta County, indicating investment and economic growth within our community.

Despite the current challenges facing winter tourism in Delta County, we remain resilient and optimistic about the future. The impressive growth of our community’s tourism industry reflects our collective dedication to showcasing the beauty and charm of Delta County to visitors from near and far. As we navigate through this period, we’re grateful for the continued expansion of amenities and attractions in our area, including new restaurants, tours, and recreational opportunities. Together, we’ll continue to adapt, innovate, and support one another, ensuring that Delta County remains a vibrant destination for years to come.

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Robert Micheau is CEO of Visit Escanaba

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