MARQUETTE – Presque Isle. Lake Superior. Tourist Park. The North Country Trail. The Iron Ore Heritage Trail. Ore boats.
There are plenty of reasons for residents to live in Marquette and the surrounding area. That means there are plenty of reasons for out-of-towners to visit.
So how good was the 2013 tourism season?
“Extremely good,” said Pat Black, executive director of the Marquette County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Black said the bureau’s financial reports show an increase in the number of rooms sold at hotels and motels.
“We were up a lot in July and August,” Black said, “and we will be up over last year.”
Even though there might be plenty of attractions to lure tourists, they first have to hear about them. Black attributed the increase in the number of rooms sold to increased marketing efforts and the fact Marquette has a lot going on – and not just in tourism.
“People really like it here because there’s lots to do,” Black said. “By lots to do, I don’t mean Six Flags kind of stuff.”
There are the beaches, of course, but Black also pointed to the unique beer pubs found in town.
“It just seems like we’ve grown,” Black said, “and it’s just a destination people love.”
Kaye Hiebel, executive director of the Marquette Regional History Center in Marquette, said of the recent tourist season, “We were pretty consistent all along. Our historic bus tours that we offer for tourists were all sold out. We feel pretty good about the way the summer went.”
Not only do tourists come to the center and take part in its activities, former residents do as well.
“We cash in on a lot of that people that want to reconnect with their relationship to the U.P.,” Hiebel explained.
Visitors come to the history center for a number of reasons, Hiebel said. For example, because of the number of bicycle tours that came through the city during the summer, the center’s exhibit on the history of the bicycle attracted patrons with that particular interest.
The fall colors also brought in more visitors, she said.
“We had a very good burst there when the weather was really nice,” Hiebel noted. “We had a lot of people in town.”
Mona Lang, executive director of Marquette’s Downtown Development Authority, said, “Our downtown had a great summer. Our restaurants particularly had a great summer.”
Unusual things to do in town certainly help, Lang said, because they attract new visitors or people who have previously attended the events and want to see them again.
Lang mentioned as two examples the Tall Ships visit to Marquette in July and a performance event held throughout the city in conjunction with the ships visit, in which residents performed as “living statues.”
“Anytime you can do something unique really attracts people,” Lang said.
Negaunee and Ishpeming don’t have the Lake Superior shoreline, but they do have the rocky terrain that makes this part of the Upper Peninsula stand out uniquely from other parts of the state.
Kori Tossava, executive director of the Greater Ishpeming-Negaunee Area Chamber of Commerce, said the rock formations and Jasper Knob – a large outcrop in Ishpeming with alternating bands of jasper and other minerals – are big attractions, as are the waterfalls and trails.
“A lot of people do like to go to the mining museums and things like that also,” Tossava said.
Tom Nemacheck, executive director of the U.P. Travel and Recreation Association, based in Iron Mountain, said the organization looks at tourist season success from a spending standpoint as well as the number of visitors.
Tourism spending this summer was up 10 or 11 percent across the U.P. compared to the previous one, according to Nemacheck, which equates to an 8 percent increase in visitors.
And that appears to be a trend because over the last several summers, each summer has been better than the previous one, he said.
“There’s been a lot of great marketing going on, and we had good weather,” Nemacheck explained.
The Pure Michigan state campaign and the efforts of local convention bureaus contributed to that success, he said.
One tourism area in particular has been good for drawing tourists to the Upper Peninsula.
“The soft-adventure travel has been the growth area in the last eight years,” Nemacheck said.
Soft adventure, he explained, means kayaking, biking and similar recreational pursuits that typically aren’t dangerous. Nemacheck said he noticed during the summer that vehicles parked at many hotels had bike or canoe racks.
“And we have a great product for that,” he said. “The U.P. has addressed that. Many communities have improved their soft-adventure products.”
It doesn’t hurt that major cities like Chicago, Detroit and Minneapolis are close by, he said.
“We’re very close to those markets and we offer a very good wilderness-type experience,” Nemacheck said.
Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is email@example.com