Up North luring tourists with dogs bikes and skis


LANSING — The wind is cooler, leaves are changing color and winter is around the corner, and Northern Michigan tourism officials say they are confident the region will lure tourists this fall and winter.

Pure Michigan has revealed its new fall advertising campaign, according to Michelle Begnoche, communications specialist.

“Michigan really is a four-season state,” Begnoche said. “Residents from across the country will travel to see our fall color displays in Northern Michigan, along with the great cider mills that we have to offer.”

The program’s advertising budget is around $2.6 million and includes almost $400,000 in private funding.

“We are working really hard to get people to travel here,” she said. “Most of our advertising is within drivable distances, so it shows that it can be a weekend trip.”

Campaigns are running in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Meanwhile, Denise Gurnack, marketing manager for the Marquette County Convention and Visitors Bureau, is pursuing her winter plans.

“We are beginning to work on our UP 200,” Gurnack said. “This is the 12-dog, 200 mile Iditarod-qualifier race that runs from downtown Marquette out to Grand Marais and back.”

Between 500 and 600 tourists are expected to visit the area Feb. 14-18 to cheer on the mushers and dogs, Gurnack said. “People line up and down the entire race course to show their support,” she said. “It is like a weekend-long party.”

The Marquette County Convention and Visitors Bureau also is planning two other races: the Midnight Run (eight-dogs, 80 miles) and the Jack Pine race (six-dogs, 30 miles).

“The good thing is, if we have snow they will come,” she said. “Last year with the lack of snow and higher temperatures, we were able to re-route the race and have the same success.”

In the state overall, Begnoche said the warm temperatures last winter didn’t affect the travel and leisure spending very much.

“Travel and leisure spending in 2010 was $4 billion and then in 2011 it was $3.9 billion,” she said. “That is a small change and wasn’t very noticeable in the figures.”

Mike Norton, Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau media relations specialist, said with the capabilities of snow machines and contingency plans, Traverse City will be fine even if the winter is warm.

“We always in the back of our mind prepare for the worst,” he said. “As long as it is cold enough that we can create snow and use that on the sledding hills and skiing slopes, we should be OK.”

Norton said the winter season will kick off with the Bell’s Beer Iceman Cometh mountain bicycle race Nov. 3. “The race is the largest point-to-point bike race in the state,” he said. “Racers start in Kalkaska and race into Traverse City. There are some hard-core bikers at the event and you never know what you are going to get.”

In February, Traverse City will host the North American Vasa cross-country ski race, which includes a collection of races for various skill levels.

“There are many lengths in this race, along with team races,” Norton said. “This race really showcases how beautiful Traverse City is and what a great winter destination it can be.

“If there is snow, people will still want to travel. There are spas and cabins and waterparks, which leave tourists with many ways to enjoy nature and the great outdoors inside,” he said.

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