Despite all the macroeconomic signs to the contrary, area resort operators are expecting strong growth in 2005, driven by facility upgrades, golf, wider geographical markets and burgeoning markets within the youngest and oldest generations.
Doug Bell, director of golf and general manager of Manistee National Golf and Resort, has been tracking a nearly 15 percent increase in reservations over this time last year.
After wrapping up a whirlwind tour of eight golf shows around the Midwest and Canada in Chicago last week, he expects to see both an increase in rounds played and in resort and hotel stays — and bookings at the 42-room, 36-hole resort support his optimism.
“We hit the road pretty hard and we’re very optimistic about what we accomplished,” he said. “And overall, the impression I received from the other courses and resorts were similar. Everybody seems to be a little more positive than they were this time last year.”
Bell believes the industry optimism and larger show attendance he witnessed reflect a different attitude of the golfing public for the coming year.
“People are more excited,” he said. “It’s been a long winter and more people have been trapped and haven’t traveled. People are looking forward to getting out and playing.”
Also, northern resorts won’t have to compete with the Ryder Cup.
Courses across the state used the Bloomfield Hills event as a marketing tool last year, especially for the corporate dollar.
“That really helped the southern part of the state,” Bell said. “I think for the northern resorts, it was a detriment. It was so focused on the southern end and I don’t think many people were bringing folks up here to entertain.”
With the weakness of the American dollar, Bell also expects to see increased benefits from a Canadian marketing campaign, now in its third year. Some returning Canadian groups have already made reservations for the resort’s slowest period, and are bringing larger groups.
“The business has changed,” said Bell, a 15-year golf professional. “I work harder in winter than summer. People who succeed are finding new ways to market themselves.”
While Manistee has seen growth by converting a reliance on Grand Rapids, Muskegon and Lansing into a larger geographical market, others are hoping for success by moving closer.
The BayPointe Inn and Restaurant opened its doors in Gun Lake in November and is projecting 60 percent occupancy in its first year.
Citing a lack of resort getaway properties in the immediate greater Grand Rapids area, Mike Powers left behind 15 years in financial services to open the resort with his wife, Patti.
“You’ve always been able to go to areas like Traverse City, Charlevoix or Petoskey for resort getaways, but there really has been very little in southwest Michigan,” he said. “A lot of people simply don’t have the time to drive all the way up to northern Michigan.”
Located in Shelbyville between Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids — a half hour drive from each — BayPointe promises resort amenities — lakeside view, indoor pool, fitness facility, upscale rooms and restaurant — in an area already popular among West Michigan campers and day-trippers.
Without any resort properties, Gun Lake already drew 800,000 visitors a year.
Further south, the Yarrow Golf & Conference Center in Augusta is looking forward to its golf course’s second full season. Between golf and an increase in wedding business, Yarrow is expecting up to a 7 percent increase in revenue across the board, said Toby Hilton, director of sales and marketing.
“The first year we opened the golf course, our revenue was way above the year before,” he said. “(There was) a little higher increase than that the next year, its first full year, and if we continue at 7 percent, it’ll be a good year for us.”
Hilton has noticed a decrease in business from pharmaceutical companies, but corporate business has remained strong.
Overall, one of the largest demographics showing growth is the senior citizen.
In Thomsonville, Crystal Mountain is expecting its strongest year since 2000, said Joan O’Neill, communications director. It has seen an increase in corporate business, as well as a healthy jump in reservations among its transient guests.
“Some of the corporate events book two years in advance, so we’ve known 2005 would be a healthy year,” she said. “There is also definitely more family travel.”
Those markets now often intersect, she said. Conference-goers will bring family with them, usually adding a few days or a week’s stay to either side of the business trip.
While there remains a steady stream of corporate and group golf trips, it may soon be overtaken by the family golf outing. O’Neill reported that Crystal Mountain has seen more families and couples on the greens than ever before.
As the Lake Express ferry in Muskegon becomes more popular, O’Neill expects the resort to draw business from the other side of Lake Michigan, which few Michigan resorts have historically done.
The Muskegon Convention and Visitors Bureau has been marketing the area to Wisconsin this past winter, including a trip to a Madison trade show, said Sam Wendling, community development director.
Between the ferry and capital improvements at the Michigan’s Adventure theme park, Wendling expects Muskegon to see a 5 percent to 8 percent increase in tourism revenue this year.