Labor Day means end of summer tourism; Staff shortage will continue

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

“The summer has been a little different. We probably had some challenges with gas prices and inflation and other limitations for consumers. That affected their decision making,” says Tkach. He adds that the hospitality industry was hit harder than any other in Michigan during (and since) the pandemic. He says that during that time, 27% of the jobs that were lost in Michigan were in hospitality. “The hours of operation, of restaurants, wineries and businesses, are not what they had been in 2019. Apples cannot be compared (years) with apples. It’s a different experience now when you come north.”

tc biz gt cake 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 good foot traffic, so that’s very helpful.” But many people noticed a difference.

Tkach says, “You may walk downtown one day and not feel as busy as you would have expected in July or August. It doesn’t mean it didn’t average to be a great July or August, it just means maybe we had more peaks and troughs than in previous years.”

Amy Gembis agrees. She is the owner and general manager of Pop-Kies Gourmet Popcorn. “I have to say the last two summers were a little busier, but it’s been on par with previous summers in terms of tourists and the excitement of downtown and shopping here.”Tc Biz Poppies

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It seems that we have not yet settled into a stable routine after COVID. Tkach says that there are “businesses that you expect to be open 7 days a week. Or be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Now maybe they’re closed a couple of days a week. Or maybe they no longer offer one of the meals they used to offer.” Grand Traverse Pie is one of those. “Unfortunately we had to reduce the hours, so we changed it to 8-5 from Monday to Saturday. We were open from 8 to 7, but due to lack of staff, we dropped it for a few hours,” says Bailey.

Now that fall is here, much of the workforce is about to cut their hours or stop working all together when they go back to school. Gembis says, “This time of year we always miss out on our main help that we have for the night and that sort of thing: college. It’s something we deal with every year.” And Bailey adds: “We’ve had a very busy summer. Unfortunately a bit understaffed. But I have an amazing team and they have done a great job this year.”

cake tc biz gt“We have been crippled by staffing all year. It has affected the hotel industry probably more than any other,” says Tkach.

He credits companies for adapting quickly. He says that Traverse City has been successful even as there is more competition from the pandemic. “Now that metropolitan areas are open, major sporting events are back, museums are open again. All urban experiences are open again. That’s a whole different level of competition that we haven’t had to deal with in the last two years. That probably affects us too. International borders are open. People also have more options.”

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When compared to other Michigan cities, or even other destinations along the Great Lakes, Northern Michigan continues to do well. Says Tkach, “Despite some of these ups and downs we’ve seen over the summer, Traverse City continues to outperform all other destinations.”

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