If we begin with the ongoing challenges our economy is facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is a good time to reflect on how our tourism community has fared and what the future looks like in Gaylord.

Unfortunately, while many Michigan communities saw significant declines in the travel and visitor sectors, Gaylord fared better than most. By the time we closed our 2020 budget year at the Gaylord Area Convention and Tourism Bureau, revenues, which reflect the lodging sector, were down a little less than 25%. Some communities saw motel room sales losses in the region of 80%. A recent study shows that nationwide motel occupancy is at its lowest level since 2009.

Gaylord was able to avoid such heavy losses due to the quality and abundance of our outdoor activities here in Otsego County. After struggling with initial home stay orders and uncertainty associated with it in March, April and May, people began a modest return to travel activity in June. Each subsequent month got better with an almost normal fall travel season.

The initial concern we had was allayed by mood studies of travelers, which showed those willing to travel would be looking for new outdoor adventures, rural communities, resorts, beaches, lakes and trails. Places where they can effectively stay away from the crowds, of course, find social distance and time for rest and relaxation. People were eager to get out of their homes and experience wide open spaces. This was very beneficial to the Gaylord and Otsego Counties areas.

This doesn’t mean that many small businesses weren’t badly affected, because they certainly have. We urgently need our restaurants to reopen. This sector has been hit extremely hard and the government programs that have been put in place to support them are a drop in the bucket for the financial losses they have suffered and the mayhem that has been inflicted on those working in the industry.

Since 2021, the trend of travelers looking for outdoor recreational opportunities has continued. This is particularly beneficial to Gaylord as we blatantly say our community is Michigan’s number one winter recreation destination. This is backed up by the quantity and quality of outdoor recreational activities and our normally abundant snowfall. Our biggest challenges this season are unusually low snowfall and ongoing restaurant closings.

I know everyone is intent on getting out and moving, and we’re so close. As COVID-19 cases continue to decline and the number of vaccinations increases, we expect a robust travel season in summer and fall. Travelers will continue to seek out outdoor recreational opportunities, and because we have been blessed with so many natural resources, we will be ready for them here in Gaylord.

The following guest commentary was written by Paul Beachnau, Executive Director of the Gaylord Area Convention and Tourism Bureau.