Travel Outlook Optimistic Really

New survey data shows tourism businesses expecting a better year ahead than they had in 2004, as the economy improves and people move beyond lingering concerns over the economy and high gasoline prices.

Fifty-eight percent of the tourism-related businesses responding to an annual Travel Michigan survey said they expect an increase in business in 2005.

After a 2004 travel season that didn’t quite pan out as forecast due to a myriad of reasons, the tourism industry is preparing for 2005 with a positive and upbeat outlook, Travel Michigan Senior Vice President George Zimmermann said.

“Michigan’s tourism industry is very optimistic, as early indicators reveal that 2005 could be a great year for state tourism,” Zimmerman said.

Yet behind the outward show of optimism is the reality that similar results in last year’s Travel Michigan survey did not pan out. Forty-two percent of the survey’s 277 respondents in the latest survey felt that business in 2004 was worse than in 2003.

More than one in four said business fell by 5 percent to 10 percent and nearly six out of 10 respondents cited a decline of more than 10 percent.

Getting the blame are gasoline prices that hit $2 per gallon during 2004 and caused many people to limit travel plans, as well as concerns over the economy and the war in Iraq that affected consumer confidence, and poor weather that plagued much of the summer travel season.

Actual results varied across the state, with some attractions and destination communities doing far better than others.

The Muskegon Convention and Visitors Bureau, for instance, came in “just about even” in collecting lodging assessments that it attributed to the launching of the Lake Express cross-lake ferry, Executive Director Sam Wendling said.

Down the shoreline, the Grand Haven-Spring Lake Area Visitors Bureau experienced an 8.6 percent decline in room assessment collections.

While the weather is always the big uncertainty, the economy and consumer confidence are now in better shape than they were in 2004 and gasoline prices have stabilized, giving Travel Michigan Vice President Dave Lorenz optimism that the survey results for 2005 will indeed come true.

Lorenz bases his view on advanced lodging and attraction reservations at reporting businesses and the “gut feeling” of operators.

“Things look much better than they did this time last year,” Lorenz said. “It’s not just one thing. It’s a combination of all these effects at the same time that are making the businesses happier and getting them to expect better things in the coming year.”

In addition to the 58 percent of businesses that are expecting a better year, about one-third of respondents anticipate a similar year and 5 percent felt they’d do worse in 2005 than 2004.

Of the business operators and managers who believe they’ll do better in 2005, half said they expect to improve business by 5 percent to 10 percent, and one-fourth predicted that they’d grow sales by 10 percent or more.

The Travel Michigan survey also found an upbeat view among travelers. A panel of consumers surveyed plan to take more overnight trips in Michigan this year than last year and expect their stay in paid accommodations to average 7.3 nights, up from an average of 6.1 nights in 2004.    

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