TRAVERSE CITY — Tourism's impact on the Traverse City economy jumped by nearly $300 million in just six years, according to newly released statistics.
The study, by Anderson Economic Group, shows a $1.2 billion economic boost from tourism in the Traverse City area in 2012. That represents an approximate 28 percent jump from $937 million in 2006.
"There’s a lack of understanding about how deep and broad the positive impact tourism has on the community," said Brad Van Dommelen, president of the Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Look at the numbers: $1.2 billion invested in our community in one year, and it's not just hotels. They are a small part of it."
The new statistics -- along with the planned renaming of the Convention and Visitors Bureau this week led to a conversation between the Record-Eagle and Van Dommelen about tourism and the region.
Q - What do you say about the ongoing discussion in Traverse City about 'festival fatigue,' or too many events?
"I think we have to be very careful about our discussion in that area. I understand the issue but we have to be very, very careful we don’t swing the pendulum too far in the other direction or have a knee-jerk reaction ... a lot of the festivals that have been complained about being the loudest really don’t have a lot to do with tourism. They are local events. We can’t throw tourism under the bus in the discussion about events and festivals. They are a very very important part. We have to be very careful we don’t end up with unintended consequences.
"The Taste of Traverse City event producer just got a letter from the city saying they are going to refund her reservation fee for 2015 and 2016 because the city is looking at a moratorium on the issuance of high-impact park usage permits. That’s an unintended consequence of this discussion. I doubt very much the police received a phone call or complaint from her event. It was a great event ... it really celebrates our community from the standpoint of being a foodie destination.
"We have to be very cautious about how we react to this issue."
Q - The Convention and Visitor's Bureau is changing its name. What's going on?
A - "The old name is Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau. The new name is very simple – Traverse City Tourism. We wanted a name that was simple, a name people would understand and, most importantly ... make sure your name represents what you do. Traverse City Tourism clearly defines what we are involved in. That’s what we do here, that’s what we focus on.The organization will function the same way. We are doing it under a different name.
"The changing of the name will help us become better understood in our own community. Our brand is Traverse City. It's what we promote ... and there has been a lot of confusion over our name."
Q - How does the bureau promote tourism?
"We do it in a number of ways. First, of course, probably our most public aspect of what we do locally is the Visitor's Center. It's a place visitors can come to get information about the destination. Most of the rest of what we do is not seen locally. Our dollars are largely spent outside of our community to bring people here. We have a sales team involved in various different market segments ... we have some of our sales staff based here and reps we are contracted with in Washington, D.C. and Chicago for regional and national meetings. We have a staff person based in Lansing who works to attract the state association business to our destination, which is probably our biggest market segment for the meetings and conventions and then we have people based in the office here working on the corporate markets ... a new initiative is the sports market for amateur and youth markets.
"We have a database we’ve continued to build over the years, contacts for meeting planners and event planners throughout the country. We are trying to educate on what the opportunities are here."
Q - What is the biggest opportunity for growth?
"Even (with a $5 million budget) there are still limitations in what we can do. Building our brand, we have to be very targeted ... marketing and advertising is not cheap ... and we are working on international development. That is the area with the most significant growth globally.
"We need to be there, educating international customers because if we are not out there we are not going to get that business.