Coronavirus impacts West Michigan tourism

Posted at 10:27 PM, Apr 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-17 11:18:38-04

HOLLAND, Mich. — As event cancellations from COVID-19 continue to come in, businesses across West Michigan are getting nervous.

“Worried for sure,” said Josh Cook, owner of 1 Adventure Company in Macatawa.

Each summer Cook’s company rents kayaks, boats, and paddleboards to thousands of tourists who come to West Michigan for spring and summer celebrations, like the Tulip Time Festival and Electric Forest, or to just vacation.

“Typically this time of year we’ll be doing bat maintance, cleaning,” said Cook. “Of course we aren’t doing that right now.”

While Cook’s business doesn’t typically open until May, the coronavirus is already impacting it.

“Our revenue for pre bookings is down 80 percent compared to last year,” said Cook. “We were really hoping for a growth season and so far haven’t seen that’s going to be the case.”

Daniel Sippel, CEO of West Michigan Tourism Association, says the lack of big events mixed with an uncertain summer travel season could devastate the tourism economy in West Michigan if it hasn’t already.

“It’s horrible,” said Sippel.

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation says travelers spent $3.48 billion in West Michigan in 2018 and the industry directly supported 57,837 jobs in the region.

Sippel says it’s hard to estimate how much of that spending will be impacted by COVID19, but explains it won’t be good.

“Most of those events right now have been cancelled,” said Sippel. “The big events, like the Holland Tulip Festival, [that’s] $46 million to that area. That’s going to have year long repurcussions.”

He adds even if Governor Gretchen Whitmer lifts the stay-at-home order set to expire at the end of April, other restrictions will likely still be in place adding additional challenges to those in the tourism industry.

“One of my board members today runs a canoe delivery,” said Sippel. “They have no way, if there’s still social distancing, they have no way to transport people to the end of the paddle to pick them up and bring them back. You’re going to have to look at everything new again.”

Sippel and Cook say it’s not ideal, but agree it is what it is so businesses should try to adapt.

“If we want to enjoy as much as we can, we have to adhere to this and it has to be voluntary as much as possible to be able to have a portion of our summer,” said Sippel.

“We don’t want to spread the coronavirus any further than it’s already spread,” said Cook “We’re not going to be a contributing factor to it.”

The WMTA is offering virtual tours during the coronavirus. Click here to take part.