Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 7, 2013

How much do festival visitors spend?

BY ANNE STANTON astanton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY – Welcome to The National Cherry Festival!

Now go spend money.

OK, that’s a little blunt. But organizers estimate more than 500,000 folks visited the festival during its eight-day run. A primary question: how much money did they leave behind?

Some like Joe Miley of Mount Pleasant empty little from their pocket. He rode up on his gas-sipping motorcycle and stayed and dined with his adult daughter, a local college student. He ate out, just once, at Hooter’s. He planned to spend a total of $100 on his two-day visit, and that includes about $20 for amusement park ride tickets for his toddler granddaughter.

“I’m trying to save money,” he confessed as he waited for the Midway to open Friday morning.

Chen Huang, on the other hand, drove up with her two young children, along with four other families from Chicago. She thinks she’ll spend $1,000 in the Traverse area during their four-day visit.

Officials at the Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau admit the money question is an incredibly complex one. It would take a study specific to the festival to answer it, said spokesman Mike Norton.

The last study commissioned by the bureau estimated in 2005 that the average out-of-town visitor to Traverse City spent about $140 a day, with 28 percent of that going toward a motel or hotel room.

That figure is out-of-date and it doesn't address event-specific vagaries, such as how many folks visit for what reason and where they stay — with family/friends or at hotels, Norton said.

Interviews on the street reflected the complexity, but it seemed most had a tight grip on their wallets. Maybe that's not hugely surprising, given that the festival promotes 85 percent of its activities and events as free.

Amy and Simon Kennedy, who came here on their power boat from Charlevoix, stocked a cooler ahead of time, hitting the grocery store as needed.

“It’s quicker and healthier to cook,” Amy said. “The food at the Open Space is awful and it’s expensive."

Tony Caruso drove up Friday from Grand Rapids with his three kids, ages 5, 7, and 11, and planned to head home that night. When it comes to finding sustenance, he said he’s “kind of winging it," probably eating at the different venues at the Open Space. He took $80 out of the ATM and hopes he won’t need more.

Then there are the locals who visit the festival to cheer on friends, and leave the Open Space as quickly as possible. That was the case with Molly Jarema. She and her two children came in to see a friend perform at the Cherry Idol competition on Friday.

“Last year we saved our money and went to a Tigers game,” she said.

That begs the question: would a study calculate the amount of money lost from fleeing locals?

There was one nice comment for local restaurant owners, who often say the Cherry Festival brings a mixed bag of business.

Chris Bonus’ family of five from Farmington Hills ate out about once or twice a day and spent about $60 per day.

“We try to eat at non-chain food stores," he said. "We like Siren Hall in Elk Rapids."

In the final analysis, Norton said some businesses will see bigger profits while others will not. But in the end, everyone benefits because the festival attracts thousands to Traverse City and keeps it in the public eye.

In the past week, Travel Michigan, WJR and WOOD-AM have all covered the festival. The Today Show also gave it a mention. All the attention promotes Traverse City as a fun place where people can have a good time, Norton said.

“That’s a benefit that lasts long after the festival itself is over,” Norton said.