Travel and tourism are among the top industries in the state – along with agriculture and manufacturing – and we all need to do our best here in Southwest Michigan and throughout the Great Lakes State to promote it, Congressman Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, said during the Michigan Tourism Roundtable discussion Monday with state officials and tourism association representatives.
“We have some of the best beaches and amenities – world-class hotels and golf courses – right here in Southwest Michigan. Each year, thousands are drawn by our lighthouses and museums, and tour the local wineries and breweries that dot our region,” said Upton, who serves as Chairman of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee. “We need to let folks know around the world that there are beaches in the middle of the United States, not just on the East and West coasts. If we could tap into that audience, it could increase the number of tourism jobs – good-paying, local jobs – as well as bring in more dollars to the local and state economy.”
Tourists in the six counties (Allegan, Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph and Van Buren) that make up the Sixth Congressional District in 2012 spent $977.8 million, which supported 9,323 jobs and a $203.2 million payroll, according to the U.S. Travel Association. Numbers for the state were $16.8 billion for the same year, supporting 144,400 jobs with a $3.8 billion payroll.
Congress is working to help national tourism through a variety of measures, Upton said. The House passed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) to modernize the national water transportation infrastructure by a 412 to 4 vote. The Senate passed it 91 to 7 and the President signed it into law on June 10.
In part, WRRDA mandates that at least 10 percent of Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund dollars be spent on small ports such as South Haven. In addition, a bill Upton supported to designate the Great Lakes Navigation System as a single system for budgetary purposes, was included in WRRDA to allow all Great Lakes harbors to compete for funding as one unit rather than individually against coastal ports.
In addition to improving the Great Lakes, they must be protected, Upton said. Asian carp and other invasive species are a real threat to Michigan’s thriving fishing and tourism sectors.
“This is something all of us – local, state and federal officials – need to work on and work together to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes,” Upton said. “It’s got to be an all-hands-on-deck effort. My office is staying in communication with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Governor’s office, and other Great Lakes delegation leaders to make sure we’re doing everything we can from keeping these critters from getting into the Great Lakes.”
The Travel Promotion Act, passed by Congress and signed by the President in 2010, created Brand USA to promote tourism in the United States through a public-private partnership and we are looking to extend this program past its September 2015 deadline, Upton said.
“As I was traveling around the district last week I just kept thinking, ‘Man, if people could just be here right now. The weather’s been wonderful. The lake is warming up. The sand is so nice,’” Upton said. “People don’t know what they’re missing. We have to let them know.”