Hotels Report a Super Summer. Will it be a Fabulous Fall?
What better gage for summer tourism than the comments of staff at area hotels? I spend much of my time in and out of their lobbies refreshing our Mealtickets displays. This provides a great opportunity to chat with hotel staff about their impressions of the industry, the effectiveness of the Pure Michigan campaign, and their expectations for the upcoming fall season. I thought I’d share what they had to say about the state of Traverse City’s summer tourism.
Whether it’s Weather, or Not
Everyone agrees this summer was one of the warmest and most beautiful summers in recent memory. For some local resorts, it’s the best summer they’ve seen in 10 years, and they haven’t been in business that long. But what effect does the weather have on their occupancy rates? A dramatic effect.
Overall, resorts large and small saw record breaking numbers this summer, and most attribute it to the weather. The summer sun draws visitors to enjoy our beaches and outdoor activities, in part as a retreat from the brutal heat of the larger inland cities.
Rich Maxwell Jr., owner of the Restwood Motel in Traverse City agrees.
"We had one of the best July and August room sales in the last 20 years. We had a modest increase for July and a huge increase for August, (of coarse last August was one of our worst ever). Everyone wants to know WHY well in my humble opinion it was the weather. I think the economy is as bad or worse than last year, but the travelers just wanted to get away from the heat in the big city’s."
What About the Pure Michigan Campaign?
Many of Michigan’s tourism-based organizations have been supportive of the continued funding of Travel Michigan’s Pure Michigan Campaign including the Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association, The Grand Traverse Area Hotel Motel Association and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. After missing fall and winter ad promotions due to lack of funding the campaign received $20 Million just in time for the summer media buys. My question for local hotel managers was, "did it help?"
According to Nick Trahair, general manager at the AmericInn in Traverse City, it did.
"The summer was a record year. Pure Michigan had a lot to do with driving out of state traffic into our hotel. We saw many more out of state plates compared to years past. We also had a lot of people talk about the area – not knowing what Michigan truly offered as many think of Michigan to be “Detroit” and not everything else it had. Many people who were here this summer talked about returning and our fall bookings are ahead of pace from history."
And he’s not alone. Most hotel managers and staff I spoke with agreed that the Pure Michigan campaign does drive visitors from out of town into our part of the state. Jonathan Pack, general manager at the Cherry Tree Inn, and president of the GTAHMA looks at it this way,
"It’s hard to say the good numbers are from the Pure Michigan ads because we have had such fantastic weather. My honest opinion is that without the Pure Michigan ads, we would be much worse because we wouldn’t see those increases in the markets outside of Detroit."
What’s interesting about this summer, more than year’s past, are reports from hotels entertaining so many first-time visitors. Some attribute this to the success of the campaign shedding a beautiful light on our region. Others gave credit to family and friends who recommended the Traverse City region as their favorite place to visit. Whether it’s word-of-mouth or advertising dollars at work everyone was glad for the boost in business.
Other Factors Affecting Summer Tourism
While the weather and advertising play a huge role in the number of rooms filled on a summer night, there are a few other interesting factors that came into play this season. Some were short term, and others could reflect a growning trend.
On the short term I was rather surprised to discover we may have inadvertently benefited from the tragedy in the Gulf. While oil spewed with seemingly no end into the waters of the Gulf Coast, visitors who typically spent some of their summer on oceanfront beaches opted for our freshwater coastlines instead. A few properties we work with began receiving calls early this summer looking for condo openings for long stays and cited the spill as their reason for traveling north instead of south this year. While they were pleased to accommodate new visitors, everyone feels for the gulf coast areas who are suffering a business loss from that tragic event, and wishes them a strong and quick recovery.
Forecasting Beyond the Weather
Forecasting is a necessary component of hotel management. And just like the weather it requires a strategic approach, but predictions are often inacurate. Hotels use forecasting to determine expected occupancy rates for the coming season. They translate this information into statistics to plan advertising campaigns, target discounts and to determine staffing.
The surprising trend, which I’ve heard about for the last couple seasons, is that visitors are making their travel plans at the last minute rather than weeks or months in advance. This makes forecasting much more difficult.
Mike Hall, general manager of the Days Inn in Traverse City explains,
"We really saw a shorter period of time from reservations made to actual arrival. Traverse City has historically been an area where advance reservations are the norm. However, this year, especially, we have seen 20-30 room reservations per night on Thursday and Friday nights for Saturday arrival. This has put our forecasting, such as it is, out the window."
What’s the Outlook for Fall?
As Labor Day represents the unofficial end of summer we turn our heads to fall. Apparently we also turned our backs to the cool winds that have been blowing in low temps to make it feel like October. Which illustrates the point quite well. Fall is all about the weather. If it’s a beautiful indian summer hotels expect to continue to see solid bookings. Many speculate on an early turning of the leaves and thus an early push for fall visitors. But let’s face it, no one knows what’s coming around the corner as far as the weather is concerned.
What the hotels are is optimistic.
"Many people who were here this summer talked about returning and our fall bookings are ahead of pace from history. We expect to continue strong like we have the rest of the year and finish with one of the best years on the books," said Nick Trahair.
And in case you’re wondering, Mealtickets & Unusal Ideas displays will be there at the front desk waiting for them to arrive.
"Travelers are asking a lot of questions these days – looking for family friendly places to see, do and eat. If we can put something in their hand with information – we have found more interest. When we tell them about someplace and can only show a location on the map – they immediately go back asking questions about what is in front of them," Trahair added.
So I’ll continue my rounds refilling displays, talking to the hotel staff and providing visitors with great ways to enjoy their trip to Traverse City. Cards in hand.