Tourism Officials Foresee Rebound

    LANSING — Tourism should rebound this year to traditional growth patterns, as the economy picks up and consumer confidence rises, according to Michigan State University’s annual travel outlook.

    MSU’s Travel, Tourism & Recreation Resource Center forecasts a 3 percent to 4 percent increase in travel volumes in 2004 and 4 percent to 5 percent growth in travel spending.

    Don Holecek, director of the Travel, Tourism & Recreation Resource Center, said those growth rates are more typical of what the industry averaged in the last two decades of the 20th century, as opposed to the past three years when tourism softened in Michigan with the economic downturn and the subsequent terrorism attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

    “I would say we’re returning to our pattern of long-term growth,” said Holecek, who presented his outlook today during MSU’s annual tourism conference in East Lansing.

    “It’s kind of nice to get back there. We’re projecting we’ll be getting average growth as opposed to no growth or robust growth,” he said.

    While looking to do better than the last three years, the state’s $15 billion tourism industry apparently won’t follow traditional recovery patterns. Coming out of previous economic downturns, Michigan tourism at times has posted record growth rates as high as 5 percent to 6 percent annually in travel volumes and 10 percent to 12 percent in spending.

    “It’s quite positive and very uplifting to what we’ve had the last few years, but we’ve had better years,” Holecek said of the 2004 outlook.

    In addition to the volume and spending increases, MSU projects a 2 percent to 3 percent increase in travel prices during 2004.

    Holecek last year forecast a 2 percent increase in travel volumes for the state and a 2 percent decline in spending. Travel volumes actually rose 1 percent during 2003 while spending posted a 1 percent gain as business travel began to rebound.

    While improved economic conditions and consumer confidence weigh in the industry’s favor this year, high unemployment and rising gasoline prices could curtail travel for 2004, Holecek said.

    The strongest gains, at 4 percent to 5 percent each, are forecast for the outdoor recreation/campaign and gaming sectors, and 4 percent to 6 percent for shopping. Lodging is forecast to post an increase of 3 percent to 5 percent on the year, and golfing at upscale resorts will grow 2 percent to 3 percent, according to MSU forecasters.    

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