Points of View

Industry Highlight: Tourism Grows in West Michigan

Sam Stebbins

With school out and temperatures rising, many West Michigan communities are serving as tourist destinations for visitors from our state and others. This is good news for many local businesses and employees. Recently, we explored the summer jobs that young people in West Michigan take, and many of them are employed in Accommodations and Food Services—and industry that often relies on tourists to stay afloat.

Hotel occupancy is an important metric in determining the success of the tourism industry overall. Throughout the state, occupancy has been on the rise, up to 60.4% in 2016 from 47.5% in 2009. Many West Michigan communities have occupancy rates even above the state average. In 2016, Holland saw its highest ever hotel occupancy rate of 66.7% despite adding over a hundred new rooms.


What Draws Visitors to West Michigan

Tourists are drawn to West Michigan for a variety of reasons, from Agri-tourism to festivals and even visiting (allegedly) haunted destinations. However, West Michigan residents can probably guess the three most popular reasons to visit: art destinations, the craft beer and wine industry, and outdoor recreation.

Art Attractions

West Michigan holds many reasons for art lovers to visit. There are a variety of local museums and galleries across the region like the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, LowellArts, Muskegon Museum of Art, or the Fred Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. Visitors are also drawn to entire communities like Saugatuck which have a strong and historic arts focus.

In the fall, ArtPrize in Grand Rapids pulls over 500,000 visitors to West Michigan. Last year, this international art competition created 295 jobs and had an economic impact of $28 million. ArtPrize isn’t just important for the art community. Local hotels were impacted by the 41,697 rooms booked by attendees in 2016, and visitors spent an average of $85 on meals each day at West Michigan restaurants. Outside of these industries, area businesses surely benefitted from the increase in potential customers through tripled pedestrian traffic.

Craft Beer and Wine in West Michigan

Grand Rapids is known as Beer City, USA with over 60 breweries, and many more across the region. For those who aren’t necessarily beer aficionados, Michigan has many scenic wineries as well. These attractions are important for people who live and work in West Michigan. A 2015 MLive reports that Grand Rapid’s craft beer industry creates a $12.23 million economic impact. 

Outdoor Destinations Retain Popularity

Despite shifting preferences in terms of reasons to visit, tourists remain interested in West Michigan’s lakeshore, forests and trails, and outdoor recreation activities. There are many opportunities for outdoor fun, with Grand Rapids boasting more golf courses than nearly any other city in America, and Michigan is second only to New York in number of ski resorts.

The outdoor recreation economy is important to Michigan’s economy overall. The Outdoor Industry Association reports that in 2012, outdoor recreation was responsible for 194,000 jobs, $5.5 billion in wages and salaries, and $18.7 billion in consumer spending.

Ludington is one community in particular which pulls in many tourists because of its beaches and camping at its State Park. In 2016, visitors spent $12 million at Ludington hotels thanks to the city’s outdoor recreation.

Outdoor tourism is changing in West Michigan and across the country, but remains healthy despite shifts in interest. While family vacations to beaches remain popular, hunting and fishing are on the decline. Thankfully, these reasons to visit are not leaving gaps as they are largely being replaced by hiking and ecotourism as reasons to visit rivers or woodland areas.


Still want to learn more?

For more information about the tourism industry in West Michigan, visit the West Michigan Tourist Association or Experience Grand Rapids’ websites.

If you’re an employer in the tourism industry and want to learn more about talent attraction and retention, check out Talent 2025’s resources or consider getting involved in one of our Working Groups.