How to Enjoy a Spring Break Staycation Up North

March 24, 2011

hometown highlights spring break graphic

No travel plans for Spring Break this year? Chin up. We’ve got some great suggestions to help you enjoy a staycation in Traverse City. Here’s our 7 Ways for 7 Days: How to Enjoy Your Spring Break Staycation.


1. Spring Skiing

Spend a day on the slopes this spring break, it’s an unusual treat to have conditions this sweet. Our ‘six more weeks of winter’ should have been up by now, Mr. Goundhog. But for skiers the news couldn’t be better. A spring storm brought over 8 inches of fresh snow to the area, which is great news around Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville. Thanks to a cold winter their base is in great condition, and the fresh powder is icing on the cake. If you’re interested in cross-country skiing, or snowshoeing the TART trails are a great in town option.


2. Explore an Exhibit

When is the last time you took a trip to a local musuem? This is the last weekend to enjoy the Jim Hay exhibit and video art by Lee Nam Lee at the Dennos Museum Center. Museums are a great place to introduce your children to other cultures, so don’t be afraid to take them along. But if they really need to burn off some steam, The Great Lakes Children’s Museum is a perfect option. Or check out the Vintage Toys and Miniatures Show at The History Center (formerly Grand Traverse Heritage Center) in Traverse City.


3. Take a Foodie Tour

Wander the streets of Downtown Traverse City and create your own Tasting Tour. Discover imported meats and cheeses at Folgarelli’s, salsas, snacks and all things cherry at The Cherry Stop, and delicious sweets at Morsels. One of my favorite stops is Fustini’s Oils & Vinegars where you an create your own flavor combinations from their huge selection of balsamic vinegars and flavor infused olive oils. Who knew a peach balsamic and garlic oil would make a great match? Our area is rich with locally made products. Find a new favorite and spread the word. As for me, I’m dying to try Simply Cupcakes. Their flavors sound soooo good.


4. Hunt for Antique Treasures

I grew up spending weekends at auctions and wandering flea markets with my parents. No matter where we went there was always a unique treasure to be discovered. While "antiquing" may not be as popular as it was in the ’70s and early ’80s, shabby chic and bargain hunting never goes out of style. You could spend an afternoon browsing through the Cherryland Antique Mall on Garfield Road in Traverse City. Or if you’re in Benzonia, stop by the Emporium on M-115.


5. Wine Not Try Something New

Spring break shouldn’t just be for kids. Parents need a little time out too. With more than 20 wineries in the area there’s always a new taste waiting for you on our lovely peninsulas. Newer tasting rooms include Silver Leaf Vineyard & Winery on Leelanau Peninsula, and Northern Natural Wine Tasting in Benzonia. This time of year is a great time to catch the winemaker’s on site. They’re in between the harvest season, and the growing season, so they’re often available to chat or provide a tour. Also look for unusual specials and events at the wineries. Left Foot Charley is offering specials for Teachers and School Workers during spring break. Or how about checking out the upcoming Sushi School at 2 Lads Winery. So much fun, so little time.


6. Be Entertained

With half of the region’s population headed to warmer parts of the country you might think there’s nothing going on in Traverse City during spring break. But you’d be wrong. Old Town Playhouse has weekend showings of Fiddler on the Roof and Good On Paper for example. And don’t forget about Interlochen Center for the Arts. A handy bookmark to have on your desktop is this one for They are a local non-profit online ticketing resource specializing in arts and entertainment venues.


 7. Start a Spring Project

We’ve got a week home with the kids, why not start early on some of those spring projects. Here’s a few starters from my to-do list:

  • Clear out the clutter in the basement and donate items to Goodwill or the Women’s Resource Center. You don’t want to know how many old cell phones I have that could be put back in service for someone in need.
  • Brighten the living room with a fresh coat of paint. I found some inspiring Northern Michigan themed paint colors at Northwoods Hardware in Glen Arbor that would perk up any room.
  • Put away the last of the winter decorations (yes, I still have white lights and pine boughs on my porch from Christmas) and haul out the spring branches and Easter decorations.
  • Start sowing seeds for a summer herb garden. I get great ideas from the folks at Garden Goods in Traverse City. And this time of year you’ll have the first pick of the hottest new pots and tools.


Well there you have it. My 7 Ways for 7 Days. Now get out there and enjoy the beauty in our own backyard on your spring break staycation. And if you’ve got some great staycation ideas to share, let us know.


Post your suggestions on our Facebook page. Or send us a tweet at @TraverseTravelr.


Proposed “Bed Tax” Increase to Boost CVB Marketing Efforts

March 9, 2011

hotel bed tax imageRegional Convention & Visitors Bureaus throughout the state are faced with the question of whether or not to increase their room assessment, also known as a "Bed Tax" from 2% up to 5%.

What’s the impetus behind this proposal? And what do our local CVBs plan to do? Here’s what I discovered.



The facts on Bed Tax

If you’ve ever studied your bill after checking out of a hotel in other Michigan cities of a similiar size you’ll notice a 2% fee in addition to sales tax. This is the room assessment, casually referred to as a Bed Tax. This fee is collected by lodging properties with 10 rooms or more, throughout Michigan. The purpose is to create a source of income to be spent on tourism marketing efforts, which in turn benefit the travel and tourism industry.

So, what’s the difference between an assessment and a tax? A very important distinction: A tax is levied on the public as a whole, and therefore must benefit everyone. An assessment is imposed on a specific group, who in turn receive the benefits. In 1984 Michigan Public Act 59 set the room assessment rate at 2%. A figure which has been in place ever since. To change this rate requires an amendment to the legislation. Which is exactly what happened last autumn. This amendment passed into law on December 5, 2010.

Travel Michigan, the State department responsible for the program, issued a referrendum to allow districts the opportunity to increase their rates from 2% up to 5%.


Benefits of a rate increase

I first learned of this proposed increase at a recent meeting of the Grand Traverse Area Hotel Motel Association. Brad Van Dommelen, President of the Traverse City Conventions & Visitors Bureau, spoke to the members about the reason for the proposed increase and what the CVB would like to do with the funds.

Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau recommendion is to increase the assessment to the maximum amount allowed of 5%. Their goals for the increase include:

  • Enhance their group sales effort to attract more regional and national associations
  • Create a year-round marketing effort with ongoing campaigns in major focus cities
  • Partner with Travel Michigan to create a national "Pure Michigan" ad specifically promoting Traverse City


By law, the majority of the room assessment must be spent on marketing.

According to Van Dommelen, while some funds go to operational costs, and improving group sales may require additional staff, "the vast majority of the increase will be spent on ad buys."

Five years ago, the TCCVB spent approximately $40,000 on advertising and promotion. Last year this number was $660,000 on ad buys alone. A 3% hike in room assessments would mean a huge increase in purchasing power for the region.


What does this mean for Traverse City travelers

If the proposal passes, guests staying in Traverse City hotels will pay a 5% room assessment, and 6% sales tax, for a total of 11% at the bottom of their bill. TC visitors currently pay 8% total. On a $100 room the increase amounts to less than the cost of a latte. And for these few dollars per room, they can strengthen the marketing initiative that puts diners in restaurants, cars at the pump, tasters in wineries and golfers on the greens. We all know this is a beautiful destination. Perhaps we just need to a louder voice to let everyone else know.


Hotel reactions

The Grand Traverse Area Hotel Motel Association announced their support of the proposed increase at the February meeting. According to Jonathan Pack, GTAHMA president, "The board is cautious of any assessment increase, but our focus is on national advertising that would show off Traverse City’s many new national awards, like Top Ten Beach Town (awarded by AOL Travel), Top Ten Fall Color Town (awarded by, and Top Ten Wine Town (awarded by USA Today).  Without the increase to the maximum amount of 5%, the capital needed to do a national campaign would take a many years, and the recent awards would be relatively old."

Pack’s sentiment was echoed by many of the hoteliers I spoke with at the meeting, and since. When asked about their reactions to the proposal, so far, everyone’s response has been positive.

Bryan Moore of the Courtyard Marriott is in favor of the increase as a means for remaining competitive. "So many small communities have jumped on and increased rates. We don’t want to be lost or left behind."

The travel and tourism industry is a competitive market. There’s a sense that the communities out spending money on advertising are the ones who reap the rewards with more visitor traffic.

Jeannie LaBonte, at the North Shore Inn is also in favor of the increase. "Whatever we can do to bring people up to Traverse City. It’s important."

But in the end, it is up to each and every property in the district.


Approval process

In order to make the change each lodging property with 10 or more rooms, receives a ballot. The hotels must approve the referrendum by a simple majority. Each property receives one vote per room. The ballots are sent back to Travel Michigan, where they are counted and verified by a separate agency.

The Traverse City CVB began this process early this year. Ballots were due back to Travel Michigan on February 28th. The results of the proposed increase should be known by the middle of March.

If the proposal is approved the new rate will begin on April 1, 2011.


Where do other communities stand

Since I work with many businesses and properties in Benzie County I spoke with Mary Carroll, the Executive Director of the Benzie Area CVB, to find out about their plans.

Mary explained, "we are suppportive of the legislation that allows this to take place. But our board has decided not to increase at this time." She explained their board is comfortable with the current assessment and the ways they are utilized for marketing. Even a two percent increase would double their budget. But they wonder, "if we had 50% more money, does that mean we can bring 50% more visitors to the area?"


The law passed on December 5, 2010 which allows each district the option to increase their room assessment up to 5%. Since that time several communities throughout the state have started this referrendum process, including Holland, Sault Ste. Marie and Marquette, some of which have completed their approvals.



By the end of the month we’ll know if Traverse City will have more funds to spend on marketing.

"We’re a four seasons destination. And we need marketing out there promoting us in all four seasons. Our product is gorgeous. I truly believe this is what we need to move us forward."

   — Brad Van Dommelen



For more information on the history of this legislation and Michigan assessment districts click here to check out the Destination Marketing Organization Manual for Michigan Assessment Districts.

Welcome Back, Dennos Museum Center

March 1, 2011

Dennos Museum Mealtickets cardMealtickets is Proud to Welcome Back, the Dennos Museum Center


The Dennos Museum Center, located on the campus Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, is a great local destination for cultural events. Their permanent exhibits include a renowned Inuit Art Gallery, complete with one of the largest and most historically complete collections of its kind in the United States. But what I always find inspiring are the revolving exhibits in the Museums main galleries. The Dennos is small enough to explore in an hour or two, but large enough to present some of the most well known artist’s and exhibits of our time.

Also located on site is the 400-seat Milliken Auditorium. Utilized by the community for theatrical performances and concerts, the auditorium is also home to the Dennos Concert Series. Performances here are focused on World Music —performances you won’t find at any other destination in the area.


Looking for info about current Dennos Museum exhibitions? Check out the EVENTS tab on the Traverse Traveler iPhone app for all the details. Download the app for FREE for iPhone and iPod Touch.


So next time you’re in Traverse City, stop by the Dennos Museum for a tour. They’re open daily. Until then, you can find more information, and a map to their location, on our Attractions page.