Ludington hits tourism milestones


The Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association’s two Ludington lighthouses saw an increase in purchases of its tower climbs, with more than 28,000 visitors making the trek last year. Courtesy Todd Reed

Ludington saw record tourism numbers last year.

Area hotels generated $14.24 million in room rental income — the highest yet in Mason County’s history — 14.1 percent higher than in 2016 and 25.3 percent higher than in 2013.

Ludington saw year-over-year increases in room rental income every month of 2017, according to data from the Ludington Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Mason County’s marketing arm. The bureau does not track occupancy rates for the area.

July was the highest month for room rental income at $3,512,500, up 16.4 percent from July 2016 at $3,018,117. August was the second-highest month at $2,915,866, up 9 percent from August 2016.

Biggest year-over-year monthly increases were in March, April and November. The Holiday Inn Express opened May 2016 after being closed for renovations, which played a factor in increased numbers.

Brandy Henderson, the bureau’s executive director, said the growth can be attributed in part to a stronger focus on marketing Ludington’s attractions, particularly that there are opportunities throughout the year and not just during the summer.

“It’s that quintessential up-north vacation spot,” she said. “We really consider ourselves that front door to northern Michigan.”

She said the bureau also is focusing on marketing the more specialized attractions that have become popular, such as the beer culture and live music.

“All of our events keep getting bigger and better,” she said.

The fourth annual Pure Ludington Brrrewfest attracted 775 people in 2017, up 10.7 percent from 2016 and 75 percent from 2015 when the event started. Bell’s Octoberfest attracted 1,000 attendees, up 42.9 percent from 2016.

The annual LudRock two-day outdoor live music concert attracted 5,000 attendees, up 42.9 percent from 2016. And the two Rhythm & Dunes concerts brought more than 12,000 total attendees in 2017, the same as 2016.

The 26th Gus Macker tournament had 3,220 players and more than 10,000 visitors, the same as the past few years.

While not a record-breaking attendance year like in 2016, the 2017 New Year’s Eve Ball Drop attracted 6,000 people.

In 2017, Ludington State Park attracted 840,305 visitors, down 1.1 percent from 2016.

The total number of camp nights booked was up 1.2 percent from 2016, the most camp nights booked in the park’s history and among all Michigan State Parks last year.

The park also topped $2 million in annual revenue in 2017 for the first time. 

The historical society’s newest property, the Port of Ludington Maritime Museum, opened in June 2017 and saw almost 10,000 visitors in its first year.

Sandcastles Children’s Museum had its best year in attendance since opening in 2007, attracting 27,666 visitors, a 6.7 percent increase from in 2016.

The S.S. Badger does not disclose passenger numbers, but the company confirmed it saw an increase in passenger sales in 2017 from 2016, and all of the shoreline cruises sold out again in 2017, at 600 passengers per shoreline cruise.

The Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association’s two Ludington lighthouses saw an increase in purchases of its tower climbs. The Ludington North Breakwater Light sold 9,599 tower climbs, an 18.4 percent increase from 2016. The Big Sable Point Lighthouse sold 19,116, an 8 percent increase from 2016.

Henderson said this increased tourism not only helps the industry but also Ludington as a whole.

“That effect trickles out to so many other businesses and industries,” she said. “This is a form of economic development for our community.”

She said tourism could lead to people finding jobs in the area and buying houses. Many of the houses are second homes, she said.

Ted Gedra, a former Wolverine Worldwide executive who visited from Grand Rapids, recently opened the Ludington Bay Brewing Company, Henderson added.

That bigger picture is why she said the bureau’s role is so important.

“We really take our jobs seriously,” Henderson said.

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