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New gauge estimates tourism’s economic impact

The Keweenaw Convention and Visitors Bureau is attempting to estimate the economic windfall tourism creates for the Copper Country. The organization has included a new dashboard on its website that tracks what visitors spend on lodging, recreation, retail, food and drinks, and transportation.

It gives an explanation on the methodology used to come up with the number. Several sectors of the tourism economy are not included at this time. “Visitor estimates are based on room nights sold from area hotels and short-term rentals (e.g. AirBnBs, VRBOs, etc.) and do not include day visitors or overnight visitors at private, local, or state campgrounds.”

Estimates are presented by month for the past three years. The Keweenaw Convention and Visitors Bureau’s new metrics confirm what has been observed anecdotally, namely that the area is becoming more popular. Total spending jumped from $105 million in 2020 to $130 million last year. 2020 and 2019 were roughly equal, although the pandemic interrupted economic activity two years ago, hiding some of its outperformance.

Executive Director Brad Barnett says it is a difficult figure to track because “there was no central source of information. Visitors can stay at hotels, campsites, cabins, second homes or family and friends. Some of those are owned by private businesses or individuals while others are owned by the state and local municipalities. Other options, like traffic counters, are typically used for temporary measurements and long-term tracking was the end goal.”

The full press release is below.

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A new online data dashboard has been launched to help communities and businesses understand the Keweenaw’s visitor economy. The dashboard, created by the Keweenaw Convention & Visitors Bureau (KCVB), provides statistics on estimated overnight visitor counts and projected regional visitor spending in Houghton & Keweenaw Counties for the past three years.

“The tourism industry is a cornerstone of the Keweenaw economy providing jobs and other economic value to the area,” shared Brad Barnett, KCVB executive director. “But we realized our community leaders, local businesses and other interested parties didn’t have access to any data to help them understand the industry’s scale or changes over time.”

According to Barnett, the KCVB has always been a source of information on local tourism, but there wasn’t a method to estimate how many visitors came to the area. “We’re regularly asked for visitor statistics to help with business planning and important community investment decisions,” explained Barnett.

The problem is there was no central source of information. Visitors can stay at hotels, campsites, cabins, second homes or family and friends. Some of those are owned by private businesses or individuals while others are owned by the state and local municipalities. Other options, like traffic counters, are typically used for temporary measurements and long-term tracking was the end goal.

The KCVB’s dashboard displays estimated statistics by month for the past three years. It uses data from area hotels and short-term rentals to estimate overnight visitor counts. Estimated visitor spending uses information compiled by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) combined with local data. Currently, the dashboard does not include data from state or local campgrounds or day visitors. However, Barnett hopes to include some of those inputs eventually.

The KCVB estimates approximately 180,000 visitors contributed about $130 million to the regional economy in 2021. Barnett thinks that’s a conservative estimate because it doesn’t include campers or day visitors. Those numbers may be revised up as new data becomes available. Typically, the KCVB’s statistics run three months behind, and December 2021 numbers are still coming in.

“Hopefully, businesses and community leaders will find this a useful tool,” expressed Barnett. “Its certainly not perfect, but it should help us monitor trends overtime and help people have a better idea of what tourism means to our local economy.”

The dashboard can be found on the KCVB website at https://www.keweenaw.info/keweenaw-tourism-statistics/.

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