It’s obvious by now: The pandemic changed a great deal about American life. Many of us work, learn and interact differently than we did just two years ago. And as the weather and calendar finally turn toward summer, another aspect of Michigan life is likely to be different: Travel.
Pure Michigan, the state’s travel and tourism arm, is gearing up for the first real summer when Covid appears not to be over, so much as something the vacationing population is simply done with. Another spike in cases is brewing, but with vaccinations taken by virtually everyone who wants one, the new attitude seems to be: Screw it, we’re hitting the road.
And that’s absolutely fine, said David Lorenz, vice president of Pure Michigan.
“We’re learning to live with it,” he said. “Covid has changed people’s travel habits and the way we see life in general.”
In what way? It’s made us understand that life is short and nobody lives forever, perhaps.
“People value travel more,” Lorenz said of the travel industry’s research. “It’s seen as something they must do to enjoy life. People have felt lost without the connections. They want to see new places and people.”
This translates to a “huge pent-up demand to travel,” obvious to anyone who’s shopped for plane fares or cottage rentals lately. But it comes at a time when the shrapnel of the pandemic’s wreckage is still raining down. Michigan lost restaurants, and the ones that are left have staffing problems, thanks to everything from salaries to resort-area housing shortages to a lack of H2B visas for overseas workers who spend summers waiting tables in places like Mackinac Island.
Also, crowds drawn to hot spots are bumming out the locals to the point that pressure is again building to regulate short-term rentals, i.e. Airbnb.
Where does Pure Michigan fit in? Wherever it can. Starting with this year’s tourism marketing line: “Pursue your pure.”
The idea, Lorenz said, is to sell the state as a place where one can have a variety of experiences – urban, rural, lakeside, forest – in a short period of time, and maybe save that trip to Traverse City for a Tuesday/Wednesday, rather than a weekend.
“Go to places that are lesser-known, perhaps,” he said. “Maybe Battle Creek, or the cultural center of Flint. Detroit. Get back to the cities, and mix it in with your forest/beach/UP experience. So far, this has been a very unbalanced recovery. Until business travel fully returns in some form, cities can be travel bargains at the right time.”
In the future, Lorenz sees a more hybrid approach to life, where a family with laptops and maybe some kids with mobile-learning lessons can take an ambitious trip in the shoulder season or another off-peak time, essentially flattening the demand curve of golf season/ski season and opening new markets in the travel economy.
“We need to think of what’s best for communities,” Lorenz said. “But the future is much brighter than most people see.”