On the stroll from the Mackinac Island ferry dock to Grand Hotel Wednesday afternoon I felt like I was peeking at the flurry of activity backstage before the curtain went up on a big production.
It’s pre-season for the island, which caters mostly to a summer/early autumn crowd, so not all businesses are open yet.
Shop owners were sprucing up their storefronts, clerks were setting out merchandise, and one guy with a little scraper was attacking some peeling paint (a constant job on a Victorian era building, I imagine).
A couple of college-aged girls dragged their suitcases up a long flight of stairs to their summer accommodations above a main street store. Workers gathered on the lawn below Fort Mackinac, reunited for another season.
Rows of bicycles were neatly lined up, ready to handle transportation duties on the car-free island’s roads and trails.
Grand Hotel, the 1887 resort on the bluff overlooking the Straits of Mackinac, had just opened its doors to host Driving Tourism, the annual conference for Michigan’s travel industry.
This conference is a great opportunity for those in the state’s vacation business to get together for a couple of days of networking, listening to speakers talk about trends, checking out new products at the tradeshow, learning about industry predictions for 2010, and wining (or whining, depending on those predictions) and dining.
Over 500 folks with a stake in Michigan’s hospitality field tore themselves away from the office to attend sessions at Grand Hotel, May 6-7.
So far we’ve learned that more people are relying on the internet for making travel decisions, and that everyone’s looking for a bargain. We heard a summary of tourism figures for 2009 and that things are looking ever-so-slightly up for this year.
We applauded AAA Diamond Award winners and Stars of the state’s hospitality industry, from the best housekeeper to the top travel destination promoter. And we gave a standing ovation to Mr. R.D. Musser III, who became president of Grand Hotel in 1960 and purchased the property from his uncle in 1979.
The resort has been in his family since 1933 and is an icon of the island. Travel Michigan, the state’s tourism promotion office, and those gathered for the conference thanked Mr. Musser for preserving the “World’s largest summer hotel,” an important piece of Michigan’s travel package.
Friday’s program includes an update on the Pure Michigan travel promotion and words from Governor Jennifer Granholm and some of the candidates hoping to fill her seat (and the Mackinac Island cottage that comes with the job).
When the conference closes we’ll head back down the hill to the boat dock and trade places with the tourists stepping off of the ferry, just beginning their Mackinac Island adventure.