Imagine living in the Golden Age of American Postcards. The year is 1910 and the popularity of being able to send a quick message is at its peak. Without writing a lengthy letter, you had to squeeze as many details as you could on there. It’s kind of like how texting is today. Most people have limited time so the most efficient way is to send the cliff notes of what they would say in person through a text message.
What if you received a text from someone you know that was traveling that read: “Having a great time, everyone is so friendly! So much left to see and do. Today I walked three miles, met some awesome people and saw some unique art along the way.” You’d likely wonder where in the world they are…it sounds amazing! The answer is Detroit! (We’ll revisit that later on…)
Many Michiganders have eased their way back into being comfortable with traveling, helping tourism make a speedy recovery. It’s no surprise that hotel occupancy rates follow the same pattern as the economy. Rates have been on a steady climb – proof that tourism is clawing its way back.
Traverse City has held a spot on the tourism map for quite some time. Occupancy rates hit an impressive 90% in July and August. Comparing Detroit to Traverse City is definitely an apples and oranges method. Each city offers completely different attractions. But here in Metro Detroit, locals have been a key factor in the city’s comeback story with what I call “local tourism”. Area residents have taken advantage of the constant activity downtown. You probably won’t be wine tasting at a nearby vineyard or climbing dunes here in Detroit, but national tourism could be in the future for the Motor City.
Last year, hotel occupancy in Detroit was 65.1% – beating the Michigan and national average. Now THAT is something to write home about! Visitors aren’t just making the trip for business anymore. The ever-changing street scene has enticed a whole new type of traveler, making it a prime contender for tourism.
The Pure Michigan campaign has spent over $95 million since its start in 2006. Honestly, it seems likes pocket change compared to the investments being made in the D. The Detroit Riverfront alone is reason enough to pay a visit. No, seriously, if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes I’d think that statement was nuts too. Check out before and after photos on their website, but make sure you’re sitting down: http://www.detroitriverfront.org/riverfront/after
Mark Wallace, President & CEO of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, has seen their membership double and a 20% increase in visitors this year. New programs and events are being added all the time, but I couldn’t sweet talk my way into getting the scoop on what else they have up their sleeves.
The Dequindre Cut Greenway is just one part of the Conservancy (and the location of our text message friend from earlier). It’s an amazing urban recreational path for runners, walkers, and bikers. Its existing 1.5 mile stretch is getting a ½ mile extension that will be ready this fall. But it’s not just a place that encourages fitness, it’s a cultural experience. As you make your way along the paved trail, you’ll discover artwork at every bridge. The raw, industrial look of the surroundings make it an outdoor adventure like you’ve never seen.
Everyone you pass by extends a smile or greeting your way, too. This morning I had some great conversations with people on the Greenway. One couple, who not only frequents the Riverfront, but volunteers there as well, has lived in nearby Lafayette Park since 1963. Another gentleman, who is also no stranger to the Riverfront, has logged 450 miles this year with his goldendoodle BeccaRose. He drives from Allen Park to enjoy the scenery.
Near the intersection of the Riverwalk and Dequindre Cut is the new Outdoor Adventure Center, which occupies the historic Globe Building. Not only is it one of my favorite buildings in Detroit, it offers a brand new way to explore the outdoors. Nature exhibits, simulators, an aquarium, archery range, and a waterfall are just some of the features. Since opening their doors less than 2 months ago, over 200,000 visitors have checked it out. Admission is only $5 for adults and $3 for kids.
New partnerships have also played a huge role in the Riverfront’s popularity, as it became home for concerts and events like the Detroit Design Festival (visit the ‘Under the Cut’ installations this Saturday, September 26 http://www.detroitdesignfestival.com/) and Downtown Hoedown. Check out one of their free events, like Yoga in the Dark (complete with glow sticks) and Riverfront Walking Tours. As if walking along the Detroit River with a front row view of Canada isn’t enticing enough, there is also a fountain, carousel, café, wetland area, fit park, and playground.
Detroit is breaking out of “local tourism” and appealing to a broader audience. It has all the makings of a hot spot, inching its way up the ‘must-see’ destination list. The best way I can describe the city comes from a new restaurant in downtown Detroit. Written in the entrance of Central Kitchen & Bar is “Detroit: The best revenge is to be fabulous.” And Detroit is definitely fabulous.