Last week, our region joined with many other communities across the United States in highlighting the importance of travel to American jobs, economic growth, and personal well-being.
National Travel and Tourism Week (May 7-13) allows us to showcase the impact of business and leisure travel to the local economy while saluting the people who are on the front lines, delivering exemplary service to our visitors every day.
Here at the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce, we speak often about the transformation of the local economy that’s currently underway. The sectors of manufacturing, health care, technology, life sciences, and higher education are all vital contributors to our economic well-being and quality of life.
However, many residents may not realize the valuable role of tourism in that effort as well. The Flint area continues to be a destination for events, large meetings and sports. Local tourism generated more than $131 million in economic impact last year. Lodging revenue rose by 7.5 percent. In addition, nearly 15,000 people are employed locally in the hospitality sector, including lodging and accommodations, restaurants, arts, and leisure.
Flint & Genesee is a welcoming community and has much to offer visitors. We’re home to the largest county park system in the state of Michigan, from Crossroads Village and its Genesee Belle Paddlewheel Riverboat to the Mounds Off-Road Vehicle Park that has terrain perfect for off-road biking and ATV training, attracting videographers from across the country. There’s also For-Mar, a 383-acre nature preserve and arboretum with seven miles of all-season hiking trails.
Meanwhile, our national caliber arts and cultural center features Michigan’s second-largest art museum – the Flint Institute of Arts – as well as its largest planetarium. In all, the 30-acre Flint Cultural Center campus contains five institutions focused on the arts, music, science, theater, dance, and history. And joining the line-up later this year will be the historic and newly restored Capitol Theatre. The iconic facility is sure to be hit as a modern performance arts venue, as it is expected to draw tens of thousands of patrons annually.
Speaking of entertainment, the Flint Firebirds have become a magnet for area hockey fans. As a member of the Ontario Hockey League, the Firebirds are helping to draw many visitors from just across the border in Canada. Our Canadian friends are also crossing the border during the warmer months to hit the links at some of the area’s 21 public and private golf courses.
We love our sports in Flint & Genesee. We love to compete, which is why the annual Crim Festival of Races, featuring the internationally renowned 10-mile road race, and the wildly popular Warrior Dash bring out the best in us.
And, of course, we also love our classic cars and trucks as well as our distinctive place in the history of the automotive industry. You see it on full display each August with the five-day extravaganza known as “Back to the Bricks.”
Travel and tourism is an important part of the economic development continuum. In short, if people want to visit here, then it’s a good chance that others will want to live and invest here.
George Wilkinson is Group Vice President of the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce with oversight of Flint & Genesee Convention and Visitors Bureau.