By ELIZABETH FERGUSON
Capital News Service
LANSING — Vacationers in the Grand Traverse region this winter can do a lot more than ski.
At Shanty Creek Resort, skiers can take a shuttle to downtown Bellaire, home of popular breweries like Short’s Brewing.
Black Star Farms winery in Traverse City now offers horse-drawn sleigh rides on the winery’s grounds.
As of last year, visitors can snowshoe a trail connecting Brys Estate Vineyard, Bowers Harbor Vineyards and the Jolly Pumpkin Brewery of Old Mission Peninsula.
In a bid to expand tourist-related economic activity, businesses like these and across the state increasingly provide indoor tourist experiences to complement the great outdoors.
Traverse City Tourism increased its indoor promotions after a 2013 survey found that while the area’s summer tourism was maxed out, there was a big opportunity to grow winter tourism.
About 75 percent of 2013 tourists said they had never experienced the city in the winter, said Mike Norton, media relations manager at Traverse City Tourism, the area’s tourism bureau.
While tourists were in the city for a combined 3.5 million vacation days in a year, only 24 percent of national tourists and 30 percent of state tourists had traveled to Traverse City in the winter. Traverse City Tourism also found that only 3.5 percent of tourists came to Traverse City for outdoor recreation like skiing, snowmobiling and snowshoeing.
The travel bureau decided to tap into this market and promote Traverse City as a winter travel destination, Norton said.
Not all tourists are interested in winter recreation, and outdoor winter activities are dependent on the weather, he said. The tourism bureau talks up its winter events that don’t rely on good weather — things like events related to the culinary scene and wineries.
“We’ve seen an increase in winter visitors in the past two or three years, and I definitely attribute that to Traverse city tourism and Pure Michigan,” said Patrick Brys, operations manager at Brys Estate Vineyard in Traverse City.
The city also partners with Travel Michigan, the state’s official travel promotional agency, which works with several areas across the state including Manistee and Muskegon.
For tourists who do want to experience Michigan’s winter outdoors, Travel Michigan started a new Pure Michigan snow day initiative.
The promotion asks people getting cabin fever to take a vacation day in Michigan and have an outdoor adventure here, said Michelle Grinnell, travel public relations manager of Travel Michigan.
Travel Michigan begins winter tourism promotion by drawing attention to the areas of Michigan tourists are familiar with. Then it points them toward less-known destinations.
The website features common activities like skiing and snowmobiling, but it also includes more unusual excursions, such as dog sledding and ice climbing.
“It is being able to offer an entire getaway not just an activity,” Grinnell said, “People are really looking for the whole package and Michigan does offer that.”
For the Grand Traverse region, Travel Michigan first promotes the well-known skiing destinations. Then it draws tourists’ attention to restaurants, wineries, and craft breweries in this area and across Michigan, said David Lorenz, industry relations manager at Travel Michigan.
Michigan’s ski slopes can’t compete with big mountain areas like the Rockies, so Travel Michigan promotes state attributes that appeal to the greater Midwest. The aim is for people to consider Michigan the “winter playground” of the Midwest, Lorenz said. Michigan’s ski resorts are ideal for families and new skiers, and are conveniently located for tourists of neighboring states.
Travel Michigan also promotes the museums, events, and culinary experiences found across Michigan.
Businesses like Brys Estate Vineyard have also found success in pairing indoor attractions with outdoor recreation.
“Sometimes people don’t correlate wine tasting with winter, but its really one of the best times to do it,” Brys said.
Last year, Brys Estate partnered with Bowers Harbor Vineyards and the Jolly Pumpkin Brewery to create a snowshoe trail event. Guests visit at all three businesses while touring Old Mission Peninsula on snowshoes.
This year, the event will extend into late winter, because around 100 participants have attended each week, Brys said.
Black Star Farms winery has also embraced Michigan’s winter by offering sleigh rides this year, according to Andrew McFarlane, marketing director of the winery.
“Travel Michigan has put the winery on the national map,” McFarlane said in an email, “and hardly a week goes by without the Leelanau Peninsula making a list of amazing places to go.”
By ELIZABETH FERGUSON