Lake Michigan tourism booming
MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. - Hundreds of thousands of people flocked to the Indiana beaches and lakes this holiday weekend.
Michiana residents using Monday morning to clean up what remains of a very busy holiday weekend at Washington park beach in Michigan City.
“There was a lot of stuff leftover from the Fourth of July specifically I can tell. A lot of fireworks," Kaylie Vangalder, someone who cleaned beach Monda morning said.
Because of the pandemic, Michigan City beaches were lucky to have maybe one or two visitors at a given time but this holiday weekend it saw thousands more.
“I know the city had to close off parking early in the day because we were full," Jack Arnett, Executive Director of the La Porte County Conventions and Visitors Bureau said. "There could have been over the course of Friday, Saturday, Sunday - 150, 200 thousand people probably there, probably a safe conservative number over the 3 days."
But they also ate at the local restaurants, stayed in the hotels and shopped at the stores. This could be the much-needed relief for tourist towns hit hard by the pandemic.
And local restaurants just getting back up and running after all the COVID shutdowns also felt the increase.
“The number of people coming inside the restaurant is increasing. The amount of accommodation we can provide for them is decreasing because of the no-table, 50% capacity at the bar-tops. It has made it really difficult. Long waits and no large parties. We have to turn a lot of customers away," Chris Van Schoick, the General Manager at Shoreline Brewery said.
The pandemic hitting beach communities throughout Michiana hard for the past several months.
“We just got completely devastated, we just got flatlined," Arnett said.
The loss of revenue also affects the county’s bottom line.
“In raw terms, that’s where we get the money that generates everything we do in tourism is hotels and a little bit of gaming tax. We take that money and put it back into the community," he said. "Without that income, we’ve had a real challenge.”
But this weekend proves some people are getting more comfortable leaving their homes despite the virus still circulating.
“You can tell people are ready. I’ve been seeing a lot fewer masks from customers," Schoick said. "They can’t wait for us to be in the next stage.”
“I think the folks have made their choice. They want to come out. They want to enjoy the lake. Well now our message has to be, let's do it safely," Arnett said.
At Washington Park, there are still hundreds of people enjoying some fun in the sun but we don’t see a whole lot of masks being worn.
Even with the spike in tourists, will this rise last, past the holiday, with coronavirus concerns, county tourism officials think so.
“If we could provide a safe environment and folks do feel like coming here and into a hotel or restaurant that offers a safe environment I think we are on the right track because I think folks will come," Arnett said.
Arnett said there are major COVID safety precautions being taken at restaurants and hotels in Michigan City but as for the beaches, there’s really not much you can do but encourage people to be smart while out having fun.