Kalamazoo County visitor spending hits an all-time high of $585 million

KALAMAZOO, MI – Kalamazoo County is in the money.

Kalamazoo County visitor spending hit an all-time high of $585 million in 2021, with the Southwest region having the fastest growth in visitor spending of any region in the state, according to visitor spending figures from Travel Michigan.

This represents a growth of 50.9% compared to 2020, the second highest growth rate of Michigan’s 83 counties, Discover Kalamazoo said in a news release. Only Lake County in northwestern Lower Michigan saw higher growth, at 52.1%.

Visitor spending in Kalamazoo County has also surpassed pre-pandemic levels, with 2021 numbers up 16% compared to 2019.

Here are the top 10 Michigan counties for visitor spending in 2021, according to the MEDC:

  1. Wayne County: $5.5 billion
  2. Oakland County: $2.5 billion
  3. Kent County: $1.5 billion
  4. Macomb County: $1.1 billion
  5. Washtenaw County: $687 million
  6. Kalamazoo County: $585 million
  7. Genesee County: $511 million
  8. Emmet County: $494 million
  9. Grand Traverse County: $493 million
  10. Ingham County: $433 million

Visitor spending is a measure of the economic impact of tourism on local economies. It includes all purchases made by travelers during their visits, including hotels, restaurants, retail stores, attractions, and other businesses that support the visitor experience.

Visitor spending creates job and business opportunities and helps sustain the businesses residents enjoy, Discover Kalamazoo said.

“Discover Kalamazoo’s primary goal coming out of the pandemic was to return to 2019 visitor spending levels by the end of 2023,” Discover Kalamazoo President and CEO Jane Ghosh said in a statement. “This Travel Michigan report shows that our community was able to achieve this goal in just one year, which is truly remarkable.”

The increase between 2019 and 2021 was among the best in the state, said Brad Hershbein, a senior economist at the WE Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.

“Of the 18 Michigan counties with at least $250 million in tourism spending in 2019, Kalamazoo County experienced faster growth by 2021 than all but one: Petoskey’s Emmet County Summer Resort,” he said. Hershbein.

The Southwest Michigan region had the fastest growth in visitor spending in 2021 of any Michigan region, spending 39.9% compared to 2020. Visitor spending for the state of Michigan as a whole it grew 27.6% in 2021, but was still 8.6% below 2019 levels.

“This relatively strong demand in Kalamazoo County means more job creation, not just in the tourism sector, but also in downstream industries,” Hershbein said.

The numbers show Discover Kalamazoo’s efforts to attract visitors, Kalamazoo County Manager and Controller Kevin Catlin said.

“Kalamazoo County has much to offer visitors, with world-class attractions, award-winning restaurants, unique shops and outdoor activities galore,” said Catlin.

Across the state, confidence in travel has rebounded with the relaxation of restrictions and vaccines available in 2021, according to the Economic Impact of Tourism in Michigan report prepared by Tourism Economics for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Here’s a breakdown of Kalamazoo County’s 2021 visitor spending by category, according to the MEDC:

  • Food and beverages: $164.0 million
  • Lodging: $128.7 million
  • Retail: $113.4 million
  • Transportation: $96.6 million
  • Recreation: $82.2 million

Tourism directly supports 6,350 jobs in Kalamazoo County and indirectly supports 9,663 jobs, representing about 8.4% of the county’s total employment.

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