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U.P. tourism strong despite virus

Jordan Beck | Daily Press Laurie and Ron Ashcraft of Albuquerque, N.M. — along with their dogs “Ginger,” left, and “Skipper,” right — camp at Pioneer Trail Park while visiting the area to see their daughter in Escanaba Wednesday. Despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, regional tourism authorities said visitor numbers have been strong this summer.

ESCANABA — Labor Day has come and gone, marking the unofficial end of the Upper Peninsula’s summer tourism season. Despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, regional tourism authorities said visitor numbers have been strong this summer — and there are reasons to be optimistic about tourism this fall.

According to Upper Peninsula Travel and Recreation Association (UPTRA) Executive Director Tom Nemacheck, the summer of 2020 has been comparable to last summer in terms of traffic since the start of July.

“June started to see a lot of improvement, and then July and August have been rock-solid,” he said.

Executive Director of the Delta County Chamber of Commerce Vickie Micheau said the local area started seeing visitor numbers spike in late May.

“There was a noticeable increase in tourism activity just before Memorial Day when the Upper Peninsula and Northern Lower Michigan businesses were allowed to partially reopen,” she said.

This has not been enough on its own to offset the major losses seen between mid-March and June.

“You can’t get that back,” Nemacheck said.

Nemacheck also said the loss of major events due to the pandemic had a dramatic impact on tourism.

“Many of the communities are very event-driven,” he said.

Events in Delta County that had to be postponed or canceled as a result of COVID-19 have included the U.P. State Fair, the Great Lakes Logging & Heavy Equipment Expo and the U.P. Steam and Gas Engine Association’s 45th Annual Show.

“Canceling an event like the fair impacts the regional economy in many ways. Most significantly, larger events draw enthusiasts to the area who might not otherwise spend time or money here,” Micheau said.

While business at manmade attractions and restaurants in the U.P. has picked up significantly in recent months, Nemacheck said these businesses have still been affected by limits on attendance and occupancy.

“They’re not able to capitalize on this … as much as they’d like to,” he said.

The same has not been true for the area’s outdoor attractions.

“There’s no shortage of space out there,” Nemacheck said.

These attractions have been behind much of the tourism seen in Delta County this summer.

“Visitors interested in outdoor recreational activities are finding their way to Delta County and spending time in the area,” Micheau said.

She also felt that the area’s relatively low numbers of COVID-19 cases have made it an attractive destination.

“We’ve been hearing the term ‘safecation’ and believe that tourists now consider how well COVID-19 is being controlled in different areas,” Micheau said.

Based on current indications, Nemacheck said he had high hopes for the coming months.

“I think we’re going to see very good traffic through our fall color season,” he said.

One factor that could encourage people to visit the area in September and October has been the area’s recent recognition by a national newspaper.

“The Upper Peninsula was voted … by USA Today readers as the best fall colors in the United States,” Nemacheck said.

The region scored the number-one spot on USA Today’s list of the best destinations for fall foilage in 2020. It was listed as the best destination for fall colors for 2018 and was a top-five finalist on the list for 2019, as well.

It has also become easier for families to travel during the autumn months due to the increased popularity of remote learning for K-12 students.

“They can do that from wherever they are,” Nemacheck said.

Micheau was cautiously optimistic about fall tourism numbers in Delta County.

“It is a little difficult to get a sense of what fall tourism will be like in Delta County. However, the Chamber receives many requests for local information from potential visitors — hopefully, that’s an indication that tourism numbers will continue on an upward trend,” she said.

Looking further ahead, Micheau said the Chamber of Commerce has big plans for next year.

“At the Chamber and fairgrounds, we are optimistic as we look ahead to 2021 and believe we will see increased tourism activity with rescheduled events such as the Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass (LPGA), 75th Annual Lakestates Logging Congress and a large motorcycle rally planned for early August,” she said.

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