Future of Tourism Series | Guest Blog
By Trevor Tkach, President/CEO Traverse City Tourism
Since March, life has been difficult for all of us. The pandemic experience of a resort town in northern Michigan may be a precursor for life decisions and migration moving forward.
In some sense, small resort towns across the country just got a free pass. While urban America faced massive long-term shutdowns, smaller, rural markets like Traverse City (TC) — with fewer COVID-19 cases and deaths per capita — were given an opportunity to cautiously reopen. And we did, as aggressively as possible while still being prudent.
The onset of the pandemic wreaked havoc here too, don’t get me wrong. But when Memorial Day rolled around and we had the chance to re-open, of course we took it. We learned quickly how to serve guests from highly contagious cities in a way that would keep them, our employees and our community safe (we basically followed the CDC guidelines). Our businesses here were eager to be the model for the state, and they “pivoted” so quickly (and so often) that some may have had whiplash.
In TC’s case, our CVB seldom markets during peak season. We don’t have to, because honestly, nothing beats summertime in northern Michigan. But 2020 demanded a more aggressive plan. We knew that the twin fears of the pandemic and its negative economic impact would drastically reduce the number of travelers and inhibit their behavior, so we had to grab a larger slice of a smaller pie to survive. One in six jobs in our region depend on tourism. Given the chance to play, we had to win.
“Happy Places with Wide Open Spaces” was the campaign, and it worked. We exceeded expectations and brought the hospitality economy back faster than many expected. We weren’t 100% of last year, but we fared far better than most. Frankly, the biggest challenge here was finding the workforce to fill all of the demand.
There is no guarantee that our marketing strategy will continue to produce visitors as we move into a new season of COVID-19, but it’s likely a precursor for other, more deliberate life decisions to come.
Just like the early floods of people who sought to escape cities when the virus first hit, we believe TC and others like us will continue to be a refuge for anyone with the flexibility to work remotely, even leading some to permanently relocate.
A recent Halo Effect study by Longwoods International further supports this thinking. Those surveyed who saw TC’s advertising and then visited TC were 3.6x more likely to think it was a good place to live, 3.8x more likely to think it was a good place to start a career and 4.6x more likely to think it was a good place to start a business. Amplified by the uncertainty on the pandemic, TC and others like us stand to gain long-term economic prosperity as consumer interests and behavior evolve.
TC is banking on this increased demand for “happy places” and “wide open spaces.” Attracting talent and investment is critical to our future, and we’re optimistic the tea leaves will fall in our favor. Sorry big cities, we ate some of your lunch, but we’re still hungry.
Trevor Tkach, President/CEO Traverse City Tourism
Tkach is a leader in representing the region globally and nationally, telling the story of its businesses, unique assets and agricultural heritage. He is also a tireless advocate for his hometown and the hospitality industry with legislators, media and the local community. He showcases his passion for economic, social, and cultural issues as an active member of many nonprofit organizations. Trevor serves on the boards of the Michigan Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus, Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association, Rotary Charities of Traverse City, Traverse Connect (formerly the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce), and the TC Boom Boom Club (which organizes the Fourth of July fireworks) and is an active member of his local Rotary club.
Trevor and his wife Trisha love living in their hometown with their three children, Lauren, Camden and Carson.