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Official says COVID was boost to U.P. tourism

ESCANABA — The Upper Peninsula is set to have another successful summer. COVID-19 may be part of the reason, according to area tourism officials. Coming off back-to-back record breaking years, the U.P. is expected to have another great tourism season. Tom Nemacheck, executive director at Upper Peninsula Travel & Recreation Association UPTRA, said that the last couple years saw record-breaking visitation numbers, an influx that he says can be attributed to the COVID-19 virus.

“Ever since COVID, travel has become the most important (to people),” Nemacheck said.

“I hate to put it that way, but in the past few years we have benefited tremendously from COVID.”

While this certainly was not the case for the majority of the country or the world for that matter, it helped to get more eyes on the U.P. Nemacheck said that in other cities, the hotels were closing down because there was not enough people booking rooms, but that was not the case in the U.P.

He said that the pandemic encouraged people to travel to areas where they could engage in recreational outdoor activities such as biking, hiking, fishing, golfing and more.

This summer, Nemacheck is not positive about breaking another record, but he expects it to be a successful summer.

“Based on web traffic, there is every reason to believe it to be a good summer.”

He said that the busiest months are expected to be July and August, but people are already making their way to the U.P.

“Right now, it’s starting to build pretty quickly,” Nemacheck said.

One tool to help indicate how many people are traveling up state is the traffic reports provided by the Mackinac Bridge Authority MBA. The Mackinac Bridge connects Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan — a route a lot of tourists take.

“Kim Nowack, bridge director of the MBA, reported that 260,318 vehicles crossed the Mackinac Bridge during the month of April compared to 243,970 in 2023. An increase of over 16,000 vehicles for just the one month.”

For the month of April, traffic was up 6.7% and toll revenue was up 9.3% compared to last year.

The numbers for May have not been posted yet, but they can be found at https://www.mackinacbridge.org/news.

Nemacheck added that people began planning trips to the U.P. at the beginning of the year.

“A lot of trip planning was going on in February.”

As for how these visitors get to the U.P., Nemacheck said that 98 percent drive in. Most visitors travel from a nine-hour radius, meaning that the majority of tourists are coming from the Great Lakes and Midwest regions of the country.

The U.P. is a place where people can’t get enough of — after their first visit, tourists are likely to revisit the area multiple times in the future, demonstrating the retention value of the area.

“We have a great return rate,” Nemacheck said.

He added that because of the outdoor options, people can visit and not break the bank.

“A huge portion of our products take place on public land,” Nemacheck said. He said that people who visit the U.P. are not having to pay as much as they would in larger cities, reducing the total amount they spend on vacation.

“Our attractions are natural and basically free.”

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