Labor Day Means End of Summer Tourism; Staffing Shortages Will Continue

"People love to come to Traverse City. It’s a family tradition for a lot of folks." - Trevor Tkach, Traverse City Tourism

As Labor Day weekend arrives, it’s also the unofficial end to the summer season for tourism and hospitality businesses. Traverse City Tourism President/CEO Trevor Tkach says, “It was a great summer, but a little bit of a roller coaster ride comparatively to other summers.”Downtown Front Street Tc

“Summer has been a little bit different. We probably had some challenges with gas prices and inflation and other constraints on consumers. That affected their decision making,” Tkach says. He adds that the hospitality industry was hit harder than any other in Michigan during (and since) the pandemic. He says during that time, 27% of the jobs that were lost in Michigan were in hospitality.  “The hours of operations, of restaurants and wineries and businesses, is not what it had been in 2019. You can’t quite compare (the years) apples to apples. It’s just a different experience now when you come north.”

Tc Biz Gt Pie 2That’s not to say it was a bad summer, just – different. Grand Traverse Pie Co. General Manager Heather Bailey says, “Overall we still have nice foot traffic coming in, so that’s very helpful.” But many people noticed a difference.

Tkach says, “You might walk through downtown one day and it doesn’t feel as busy as you would have expected it in July or August. It doesn’t mean it didn’t average out to be a great July or August, it just meant that maybe we had peaks and valleys moreso than we have in previous years.”

Amy Gembis agrees. She’s the Owner and General Manager at Pop-Kies Gourmet Popcorn. “I have to say the last two summers were a little busier, but it’s been on par with past summers as far as tourists and the excitement of downtown and the stores down here.”Tc Biz Popkies

It seems we still haven’t settled into a stable routine following COVID. Tkach says there are “businesses that you’ve come to expect to be open 7 days a week. Or be open breakfast, lunch and dinner. Now maybe they’re closed a couple days a week. Or maybe they don’t offer one of the meals they used to.” Grand Traverse Pie is one of those. “Unfortunately we did have to lower the hours, so (we) changed them to 8-5 Monday through Saturday. We were open 8-7 but due to staffing we just dropped it a few hours,”  Bailey says.

Now that fall is here, much of the workforce is about to cut their hours or quit working all together as they go back to school. Gembis says, “This time of year we always lose our main help that we have for the evening time and that kind of thing- to college. It’s just something we deal with every year.” And Bailey adds, “We’ve had a very busy summer. Unfortunately a little understaffed. But I have an amazing crew and they’ve done such a good job this year.”

Tc Biz Gt Pie“We’ve been hamstrung by staffing all year long. It has affected the hospitality industry probably more than any other,” Tkach says.

He credits businesses for being quick to adapt. He says Traverse City has succeeded even as there is more competition coming out of the pandemic. “Now that metro areas are open, major sporting events are taking place again, museums are back open. All the urban experiences are open again. That’s a whole different level of competition that we didn’t have to deal with the last two years. That’s likely affecting us as well. International borders are open. People have more choices as well.”

Comparing ourselves to other Michigan cities – or even other destinations throughout the Great Lakes – northern Michigan is still doing well.  Tkach says, “Despite some of these ups and downs that we’ve seen through the summer, Traverse City continues to outpace all other destinations.”

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