Tourism dangerous to Michigan cities

Isaac Eby

There’s no denying the appeal Marquette holds for outsiders. Those of us who live here may take for granted the forests, the cliff faces and the waterfalls. But to so many “city-slickers” from all directions, the wonders of the U.P. are the stuff of sheer fantasy.

Isaac Eby
Isaac Eby

Add to this natural beauty the host of nearby recreational activities, the bundle of quaint shops that make up our village and downtown, and a yesteryear that would make any history geek blush, and it’s a surprise we’re not already the next Traverse City or Mackinaw Island.

Michigan, overall, has seen a steady increase in out-of-state tourism in the past years, and the advent of such advert campaigns as “Pure Michigan” might have something to do with it, as they market the mitten to the masses.

In 2008, the Michigan government shelled over $45 million to the Pure Michigan campaign. This attempt to lend a boost to the tourist economy seems to have paid off, as in 2011 alone we saw an unprecedented 3.2 million out-of-state travelers and raked in an extra $1 billion from statewide tourism.

Marquette may be isolated enough to not be overburdened by this influx of outsiders just yet, but where I’m from the tourist trade has already taken a firm hold on the local culture.

Petoskey is the sort of place where you can’t go half a block without running into a salon or a boutique, where decorative meridians make downtown traffic a nightmare, and where all of the fry-cooks can tell you about that sinking-gut feeling they associate with the droves of newcomers each tourist season.

Everything in Petoskey is set up so we’ll do all the finger-lifting for you (provided you’ve got the moolah for it).

A certain “us versus them” mentality blossoms in such an environment, and Petoskey is not the only place where this attitude has become the local norm.

There’s an entire underbelly of us, down here at the bottom of the totem pole, who writhe at the very thought of these visitors.

We’d be fine on our own without them gumming up our streets, stopping us in our busy day to ask for directions, and demanding their egg yolks be separated from the whites.

Yes, these are all fairly trivial annoyances, and we certainly shouldn’t overlook the benefits that come with an increased tourist market.

More business means better job security for the average college student. And these travel spots scattered across the state can surely prove therapeutic to the sorry souls enslaved by their daily grind.

Yet a dark possibility lurks in the future of our tourist trade, and we should recognize and be wary of it.

There is a fine line between merely adapting to the industry and fostering a downright dependence on it; and Marquette seems to be taking its first steps over this line, as obligations to the local populace start coming in second to the cravings of our seasonal visitors.

When the very shops that give this place its charm start to get choked out by less interesting but more accommodating businesses, the citizens of Marquette should be at least mildly perturbed.

The strip malls, the fast-food chains and the big brand superstores threaten the diversity of businesses in Marquette. The more we rely on this invasion, the more the city’s spending will go toward “keeping up appearances,” as is the case with so many other tourist-dependent towns.

One thing is for sure; Marquette is an ever-changing city. Out with the art and music venues, and in with the hotels and the condominiums.

Perhaps the question we should keep in mind is this: Who are the ones benefiting from these changes we’re seeing?

My guess is it’s not the workers among us, even if we do get to watch from behind a desk rather than from the bottom of a mineshaft.

Certainly these annual wayfarers lend a much-appreciated boost to our economy, but we should take care not to stoop too low to lick their boots.

The more we cater to the whims of our patrons, the more this behavior will be expected of us.

Let’s learn from the mistakes of the other tourist traps around us; too many of them have collectively given up their dignity, and as a result they’ve seen their cherished cities overrun by bratty children in adult-sized clothes.