With the busy summer season beginning its wind-down, regional visitors bureaus are turning their attention to the approaching fall season.
Summer in Northern Michigan is a staple for many and most northern cities went into the summer with high expectations after the last couple seasons broke records. This year, with high gas prices and rising inflation, many northern cities still saw high traffic, as people chose to vacation closer to home instead of hopping on a plane.
Post Labor Day however, tourism traffic tends to slow down as kids return to school and the weather cools down. Visitors bureaus across the region are working to increase traffic in the off-seasons in order to make the tourism economy more year-round.
More:Best fall hiking spots around Northern Michigan
In Petoskey, visitors bureau executive director Jim Powell said they will be focusing on two marketing campaigns: extend-your-summer and the regular fall campaign.
“We will roll into that campaign just to work to drive traffic up here during that September time period which, depending on when fall color hits, it really is more summer than fall a lot of the time,” Powell said.
Fall and spring tend to be the slowest seasons for Petoskey, with summer being its peak and winter being popular for snow sports.
Some September events in and around Petoskey are the Balloons over Bay Harbor, the 27th annual Taste of Harbor Springs and the Harbor Springs Festival of the Book. All of which help to drive traffic to the region post Labor Day.
Along with the larger events, Petoskey still holds farmers markets, music in the park and other gatherings through the month of September. Events tend to slow down in October due to the weather, but hiking and other outdoor activities still attract people to the region.
A new attraction visitors and residents can look forward to this year is the opening of the longest timber-towered skybridge in the world at Boyne Mountain Resort in Boyne Falls. The bridge will allow for a bird’s-eye view of the fall leaves.
“That’s kind of one of the highlights of the fall,” Powell said. “They are targeting, I think, that early September time period to get that open. Certainly will be an amazing opportunity to experience that amongst the fall color up there. (It’s) definitely something that we’re excited to help them promote and build awareness around.”
More:Record-breaking SkyBridge expected to open at Boyne Mountain in time for fall colors
subscribe:Check out our offers and read the local news that matters to you
Fall color tours are a major part of Northern Michigan tourism from September to November, depending on when the leaves decide to turn.
Sault Ste. Marie Visitors Bureau Executive Director Linda Hoath said that with the region’s emphasis on outdoor activities, the fall colors are the main driver of tourism to the eastern UP after Labor Day.
“Color tours are what they come up here for and not just driving, the boat tours do a great job of showing the color of the area. So, it’s about the color in the fall,” Hoath said.
It’s no secret that Northern Michigan tourism and interest in outdoor recreation spiked after the COVID-19 pandemic began. Hoath said that very few businesses in Sault Ste. Marie closed down due to the pandemic and more actually began opening.
She said there has also been a trend of young adults returning to Sault Ste. Marie where they grew up and more people moving to the region, in addition to increased tourism traffic. While traffic from Canada hasn’t quite recovered after the border lockdown during the pandemic, tourists from within the United States have made up for the loss.
Hoath reported that the first six months of 2022 saw a revenue increase of 55 percent, evidence that Sault Ste. Marie has had one of its busiest spring and summer seasons ever and that the city has succeeded in driving tourism traffic year-round.
More:Increasing costs outpacing raised wages, tourists still looking to spend money
Cheboygan is a northern city that has seen significant new development over the years. Carole Yeck, executive director of the Cheboygan Visitors Bureau and the Cheboygan Area Chamber of Commerce, said new businesses and events have helped the city increase its tourism traffic.
Summer is one of Cheboygan’s busiest seasons, but unlike cities like Petoskey, fall is consistently busy for Cheboygan while winter slows down quite a bit.
“There are a lot of summer residents that fill up our town and so our (summer) was pretty consistent and good,” Yeck said.
“A lot of that is due to the fact that we have added so many new storefronts in downtown Cheboygan, and it’s really starting to bloom and thrive here. So we’ve seen a lot of traffic this summer, despite the gas prices.”
The COVID-19 pandemic sparked interest in outdoor recreation and Northern Michigan for many people and even as restrictions ease, the interest doesn’t seem to be relenting, but rather increasing as it becomes easier to gather for events and patronize businesses without the fear of getting sick.
“Through the pandemic, I feel like Northern Michigan was a refuge for a lot of Michiganders,” Yeck said. “They came up here where they could be outside and they could enjoy that and get out of the cities. So we’ve stayed consistently busy throughout the pandemic.”
Contact reporter Tess Ware at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @Tess_Petoskey