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Resort owners and tourism gurus say a later start to the school year is energizing Michigan’s summer travel season and pumping more cash into the state’s economy.
The Detroit News reported that nearly 1.1 million visitors hit the road to mark the Labor Day holiday, according to AAA of Michigan. A new law means most Michigan districts are starting the school year after Labor Day for the first time this fall, a move championed by recreation officials and small-business owners who make a living catering to tourists.
The result, they say, is a surge of late-season travelers who are breathing life into the normally dormant late-August travel season, and emphasizing the importance of an industry that annually pumps some $17.5 billion into the state’s economy.
Pleasant weather and the late school start have helped offset the effect of high fuel prices and the state’s poor job market, innkeepers say.
“Last year at this time, it was dead. It was a hard sell getting people in here,” said Steve Laughner, owner of The Pines Motor Lodge, a retro-style motel in the artsy village of Douglas, near Saugatuck on Michigan’s west coast.
“This year, it’s a frenzy. We sold out well in advance. I think having the kids start school later gave folks an incentive to plan ahead and take an extra trip to the lakeshore,” said Laughner, who said overall he saw a 4% increase in business over last summer.
A study by Michigan State University researchers shows the delay was expected to generate $132 million in new tourism revenues and an extra $10 million in state taxes.
“Tourism is one of the bright spots in an overall dismal Michigan economy,” said Patrick Anderson, principal and CEO of the Anderson Economic Group in Lansing.
Indeed, payroll data compiled by the state Department of Labor and Economic Growth shows Michigan gained some 4,000 leisure and hospitality jobs in the past year. That growth was third behind a gain of 15,000 jobs in professional and business services and an increase of about 7,000 jobs in education and health services.