Traffic over the Mackinac Bridge has been in a steady decline for almost 20 years. That fact is included in a report on Michigan's tourism industry out this week from Michigan State University.
Traffic over the bridge peaked around 1998, when almost five million trips were made. The number dropped below four million just before the recession in 2008. It has continued a steady decline except for a slight bump coming out of the recession.
Researchers do not know what is happening. Dan McCole studies tourism at MSU and presented the report at a conference Monday. He says no surveys have been done at the bridge and he’s not sure a survey would reveal much.
“A study like that would be difficult,” he says, “because we’re not talking to the people who aren’t crossing so we don’t know why they’re not crossing.”
McCole says one explanation might be that outdoor activities like camping are becoming less popular in some parts of the country. But he says that doesn’t entirely add up because of other known trends in tourism.
“The UP’s also a good place for adventure,” he says. “In some parts of the country adventure is a booming business, you can think the mountains of Colorado. So maybe people aren’t associating the UP with adventure.”
Overall, travel in Michigan is growing. The industry grew slightly in 2014--hotel occupancy was up a little more than two percent--and the report projects it will grow at about the same rate this year.