Vacations look a lot different during the coronavirus pandemic.

Leisure spending has shifted as Michigan residents take money and time saved for a vacation to Disneyland or flights to Europe and dole it out for coronavirus-friendly recreation, often closer to home.

Total tourism spending in Michigan is down significantly and air travel has plummeted nearly 80{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} since March, based on Transportation Security Administration passenger checkpoint data, but in-state recreation spending is surging, often at a record-breaking pace.

New decks are being built, boats, RVs and cabins or cottages purchased, pools installed, camping, hiking, fishing and hunting gear is in high demand. And in-state travel to places like Traverse City and the Upper Peninsula seems to be heavier than ever.

Demand for pools spikes across Michigan due to coronavirus

A crew from Beattie Master Pool and Spa work together to install an in-ground pool in Midland on Wednesday, July 1, 2020. (Kaytie Boomer | Boomer |

Splish splash

Working from home, and virtual learning has kept many families close to home this summer — and backyard swimming pools are experiencing a huge surge in popularity, real estate agents and pool installers tell MLive.

“People aren’t traveling for vacations and also a lot of people are putting their stimulus money toward these pools,” Greg Lamson, who runs Birch Run-based Palazzo Pools with co-owner Tim Scheuneman.

In addition to federal unemployment insurance payments that pumped up state unemployment checks of an extra $600 through July, the government issued $1,200 lump-sum payments to millions of Americans this spring and early. summer, and Congress is currently hashing out whether there will be more financial help on the way.

Low-end pools start with a nearly $50,000 price tag and big spenders can get near a $200,000 range.

According to suppliers, pool installations and sales, which have increased each year since 2017, have nearly doubled this season when compared to 2019 and many installers are already booked through summer 2021, Lamson said.

Paul Douglas, vice president of Flint-based Blue Hawaiian Pools of Michigan, said customers are trying to create their own “backyard paradises” since “stay-cations” are on the rise.

“They’re not only spending on pools, but elegant pools, landscaping, fencing, concrete work,” he said. “Thankfully we’re one of those businesses that is thriving during this time.”

For those who can’t afford to literally transform their backyards to a personal oasis, Michigan is an outdoors Mecca with plenty of other alternatives.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Kayakers paddle near Miners Castle at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.Cory Morse | [email protected]

Great outdoors

“With long days of comfortable temperatures and the nation’s longest freshwater coastline, Michigan is a summer destination like no other,” the Pure Michigan tourism website says. “Our two peninsulas are home to more than 11,000 lakes, forested state parks, spectacular dark skies and vibrant urban landscapes that set a scene of both peaceful tranquility and adventure for an endless list of summer activities.”

According to state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) sales data through July, outdoor activity is on pace to reach annual records in many categories.

Through July, the number of new hunting license customers has more than doubled from 7,428 purchases last year to 16,470. The total number of hunting permit sales, 180,283, are speeding along faster than every year since at least 2015. New fishing license sales are up nearly 40{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} compared to 2019 and the total sales, 978,206, are above year-to-date sales.

Fishing and hunting license sales are on pace to beat 15-year records, which is as far back as the data is available, for most age group categories.

“As you can see, we have an increase across the board, with the exception of camping and lodging,” DNR spokeswoman Kristin Phillips. “That is due to the fact that we started the season about six weeks late and so there were lost reservations and revenue that we won’t make up … But demand is strong for camping and state park or trail day use.

“We are seeing visitation numbers during the week that are like a typical weekend. And our weekend visitation is similar to what we would have had on July 4th weekend in previous years.”

There’s been a dip in the sales of recreation passports, which provide access to state parks, but that doesn’t mean less people are using the parks. Phillips said the decline, a 14{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} revenue drop this June compared to 2019, may be attributed Secretary of State office closures, since many passports are purchases along with vehicle registration renewals, a reprieve that eliminated a passport requirement to access parks that lasted through June and a loss of some demand due to economic uncertainty.

Retailers of camping, fishing, hunting supplies are experiencing a windfall due to the new or renewed interest in Michigan outdoors, said Jay’s Sporting Goods President Jeff Poet, who’s company operates in Clare and Gaylord and is experiencing sales surges 20{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} to 30{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} above 2019 numbers.

After the shutdown, “we saw that immediate move to people engaging in the outdoor activities because they could have social distancing and entertainment,” he said. “We were sold out of kayaks quite early, that was one of the first sports that seemed to be very noticeable,” said Poet. “It’s not like it’s just a Michigan thing, It’s kind of across the country.”

Poet said fishing supplies seem to be likewise in huge demand across the board, whether it’s first-timers buying gear to fish inland lakes for blue gill, perch and bass or sophisticated anglers looking to land Salmon now running in Michigan rivers.

“There’s nothing that’s down,” Poet said, and “it’s all summer long. It’s not like people say, let’s go pick up something for this weekend. It’s like, what are we going to do this summer. Well, we’re going to do a lot of camping.”

It’s not just extra stimulus money that’s helped prop up sporting goods sales, said Tom Knutson, co-owner of Knutson’s Sporting Goods in Brooklyn.

“Our business succeeds when people have time,” he said. “They either have time and no money, or money and no time. That’s kind of how it works …

“It was the first time in our industry where there was time and money.”

'Modern  Wave' smart home

File photos of lakefront homes (Courtesy of Alec Urivez | Next Door Photos Lakeshore)Alec Urivez | Next Door Photos Lakeshore

Vacation homes

Michigan’s entire real estate market is rebounding quickly since it experienced a two-month closure, but one segment that seems to do especially well is vacation properties, agents tell MLive.

“People with disposable income come up here and spend money on a cottage, waterfront home or some acreage,” said Kari Garber, the principal broker at Harrison Realty in Harrison. “Folks that would normally have spent their disposable income to go on vacation somewhere and go somewhere that they had planned because of COVID restrictions are instead buying themselves another place to go.”

Garber, who focuses on properties in central Michigan’s Gladwin and Clare counties, said it’s really difficult to find waterfront homes for buyers because they’re being “swept up” as soon as the are listed.

She said it’s a scramble for realtors to find new vacation listings for a growing list of customers amid a swindling supply.

“The market is competitive for buyers,” Garber said. “They’re competing against one another and I’ve not ever witnessed it since 2003.”

Highend RVs overlook turn four in the APEX camping lot

RV file photo (Nikos Frazier | Nikos Frazier | [email protected]Nikos Frazier | [email protected]

On the road

For those looking to see the state or nation in cushier confines, sales of motor homes and decked out travel trailers with the amenities of home are also on the rise.

As far as RV sales, “they can’t make them fast enough,” said Tom Nemacheck, Executive director of the Upper Peninsula Travel and Recreation Association. “People are buying $100,000 RVs that never owned one.”

The entire RV sales industry has been in an upswing over the last four or five years, according to Bill Sheffer, director of the Michigan Association of Recreation Vehicles and Campgrounds, but the rebound after the economy began to reopen in May was beyond expectations.

“Things got a little tense as things started slowing down dramatically in March and April,” Sheffer said, but Michigan motor home sales in June were up 28{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} and travel-trailer sales spiked a “shocking” 50{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} compared to last year.

Despite encouraging summer sales, Sheffer said total motor home purchases for the year are down about 20{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c}, while travel-trailer sales have dipped 12{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} compared to the year prior.

With a starting price around $25,000 for a travel trailer that can be pulled behind a medium-sized pickup and comfortably sleep up to six people, Sheffer said more families are entering the market.

“The ability to to travel with your family in a controlled environment” is attractive in times like these, Sheffer said, “There’s no better social distancing than a campground where the sites are spread apart” and “I think a lot of campground owners have worked really hard to make their campground safe.

“It’s about the feeling of getting out there and finding new horizons. They’re looking for places to take their RV and they’re spreading it around. They’re not just going to one popular spot.”

That’s partly because so many of the popular state campgrounds, like Tahquamenon Falls, Ludington or Petoskey state parks, are nearly fully booked throughout the summer.

The wave of new or invigorated campers has led to a lack of vacancy in many Michigan campgrounds, prompting the DNR this month to launch a website intended to help last-minute campers find open state sites to park a camper or pop a tent.

The short supply is forcing more exploration.

“It’s probably really eye opening for a lot of people,” Sheffer said. “The typical RV owner probably had a special place they like to take a two-week vacation to every year every summer.

“Some of those places are now overfilled because of demand and it’s worked out quite well for the campgrounds that have not seen that type of influx before, and it gives people that opportunity to explore and be that pioneer, if you will.”

Before the coronavirus, Sheffer said families “would not hesitate to go to a high-end family resort or travel for a cruise. Now they’re taking those same monies and putting it back into their brand-new RV that they purchase.”

Michigan state park camping

A sign welcomes campers to Brighton Recreation Area in Brighton, Mich. Photo by Emily Bingham |

Tourism spending on the rise

Michigan tourism has undoubtedly taken a huge hit due to the coronavirus. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in June reported 243,000 fewer hospitality and leisure jobs than last year, a decline of 44{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c}, and a report published by the U.S. Travel Association found a 35{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} decline in travel spending during the last month, when compared to 2019.

“This certainly isn’t good news,” Travel Michigan Vice President Dave Lorenz said last week “But the study showed that travel spending had dropped by 50{143106009d8b87d45252e1fd973f0c0835ad3aabba3679e828c3cd83539ae06c} during that same period throughout the rest of the country. On a positive note, this is the highest mark since the pandemic began.”

The U.S. Travel Association report estimates travel industry losses will equate to a $1.2 trillion impact on this year’s total GDP and a full industry recovery is unlikely until after a vaccine becomes widely available.


In addition to washing hands regularly and not touching your face, officials recommend practicing social distancing, assuming anyone may be carrying the virus.

Health officials say you should be staying at least 6 feet away from others and working from home, if possible.

Use disinfecting wipes or disinfecting spray cleaners on frequently-touched surfaces in your home (door handles, faucets, countertops) and carry hand sanitizer with you when you go into places like stores.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has also issued executive orders requiring people to wear face coverings over their mouth and nose while in public indoor and crowded outdoor spaces. See an explanation of what that means here.

Additional information is available at and

For more data on COVID-19 in Michigan, visit

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