Make room: Lansing tourism industry seeing visitor counts increase

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By Krista Wilson
Listen Up Lansing Staff Reporter

Lansing is seeing a steady increase in visitors thanks to the different tourist attractions it has to offer.

“Ten years ago 57 percent of hotel rooms were occupied and last year’s data shows 61 percent of hotel rooms were occupied,” said Julie Pingston, vice president of Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It may not sound like a huge increase but over the last ten years there have been more hotels built, so we look at it as a big jump.”

Pingston said the Greater Lansing region brings in an average of $472 million a year from the tourism industry and about 4.7 million tourists visit the region each year.

Pictured is the 1932 Oldsmobile F-32, a convertible with a horse power of 74. Photo by Krista Wilson.

Pictured at the R. E. Olds Transportation Museum is the 1932 Oldsmobile F-32, a convertible with a horsepower of 74. Photo by Krista Wilson.

Potter Park Zoo, Impression 5 Science Center, R.E. Olds Transportation Museum, Women’s Historical Museum, and the Lansing River Trail are popular tourist attractions in the Lansing area, said Pingston.

“To my knowledge, tourism is very important to the Michigan economy because it contributes to employment and it generates a lot of revenue,” said Associate Professor of Tourism, Sheryl Elliot, Ph.D.

Elliot, who works as a professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., said, “Generally, what attracts tourists to an area are unique shopping places, entertainment venues, museums, amusement parks, and business travel.”

Samantha Rushing, a tourist visiting from Canada said that she enjoys the diverse food options downtown but wishes there were more places for her to party at.

“I have friends who live in Lansing, so that’s why I come here about twice a year,” said Rushing. “I will say in the summer this is a pretty cool place to be because of the amount of activity around the city like festivals and outdoor concerts.”

The map shows Impression 5 Science center, located at 200 Museum Drive in downtown Lansing. R.E. Olds Transportation Museum is located in downtown Lansing at 240 Museum Drive. TheMichigan Women's Historical Center & Hall of Fame is located at 213 W. Malcolm X St. in Lansing. Map by Krista Wilson.

The map shows Impression 5 Science center, located at 200 Museum Drive in downtown Lansing. R.E. Olds Transportation Museum is located in downtown Lansing at 240 Museum Drive. The Michigan Women’s Historical Center & Hall of Fame is located at 213 W. Malcolm X St. in Lansing. Map by Krista Wilson.

The main problem with tourism is that the attractions are fixed; if demand changes, the investment is still there and may be costly to maintain, said Elliot.

“Investments being hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, museums, or other places of attractions that are costly to keep running,” said Elliot.

According to Pingston, Lansing is a pleasant surprise to many visitors.

“A lot of people have an idea about Lansing before they come, but when they get here they see it is actually is a nice range of things to do,” said Pingston.

Museums help lead the list. Executive Director of Impression 5 Science Center Eric Larson said, “The science center is built for families to interact and learn new things in a way that is fun for all ages.”

Larson said the popularity of the center increases every year, with the number of visitors peaking at 143,000 in 2015.

The science center, which opened in 1972, is located at 200 Museum Drive in Lansing.

Bill Adcock, executive director of R.E. Olds Transportation Museum said, “Our museum is the only automotive museum in the mid-Michigan area, the rest of them are at least 60 miles away.”

“We have about 60 cars on display at a time, one including the oldest Oldsmobile made in 1897,” said Adcock. “We get visitors from all over the world; but our busiest season is the summer, where crowds of people gather here.”

The museum opened to the public in 1981 and is located at 240 Museum Drive in Lansing.

The purchase price for these Oldsmobile convertibles was $4,702 in 1969. Photo by Krista Wilson.

The purchase price for these Oldsmobile convertibles featured at the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum was $4,702 each in 1969. Photo by Krista Wilson.

Caitlyn Dial, spokesperson for Michigan Women’s Historical Center and Hall of Fame said, “We have been open since 1987 and every year we see an increase in the younger audience because younger people seem to be more and more interested in women’s history.”

Dial said the museum is one of the few places that is just dedicated to acknowledging women in the past and in the present.

“The museum definitely contributes to the tourism arena in Lansing because the state capital is here and it adds to the historical feel,” said Dial.

Dial said, “This may not be the most exciting tourist attraction, but it is the perfect place for a quiet afternoon.”

The historical center can be found at 213 W. Malcolm X St. in  Lansing.

A look at the Oldsmobile 88 Convertible Coups, created in 1950. The coupe was bought by 9,172 buyers. Photo by Krista Wilson.

A look at the Oldsmobile 88 Convertible Coups, created in 1950. The coupe was bought by 9,172 buyers. Photo by Krista Wilson.

Elliott said “tourism is a reliable source of revenue for a state, but it is not recession-proof.”

“Revenue does depend on different economic conditioning, though,” said Elliot. “Michigan has promoted its winter season well, adding more stability to what is usually considered an ‘off season’ for tourism in northern states.”

Elliot said that every state in the United States does consider tourism to be an important part of the economy.

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