Tourism industry concerned school waivers will hurt economy

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LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Tourism is the third largest industry in Michigan behind only manufacturing and agriculture.

In 2014, tourism contributed more than $22 billion to the state’s economy and accounted for some 214,000 jobs. 

“It’s really important for us that we remember that tourism is Michigan’s third largest industry,” said Deanna Richeson, the president and CEO of Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association.

With more students being covered under waivers that allow their districts to skirt state law and start before Labor Day, the tourism industry is concerned it may have a negative impact on the state’s economy.

“Our concern is that if you have schools going back further and further into one of our two hottest high tourism months it’s going to impact in a negative way the tourist that’s traveling to Michigan or within Michigan, especially for Michigan families who have kids that would be back in school,” said Richeson.

The Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association says between 2000 and 2004 — the four years prior to the law requiring schools to start after Labor Day — the month of August saw a one percent increase in tourism in Michigan.

Whereas the five years after the law passed, Michigan saw a record increase of 4.5 percent increase in tourism in August. However, that is also when the widely successful Pure Michigan campaign started.

“We want to be sure we are protecting the catalyst that helps grow those visitor numbers to Michigan because that does provide support for the tax revenue that helps schools’ operating funds,” Richeson said.

Schools point to their students already being involved in sports or having to start their duel enrollment in colleges in the last weeks of August as reasons to get waivers and start before Labor Day. However the tourism industry says the state has become too lax on granting waivers.

“That has been expanded over the last decade really to be what now serves as a loophole for schools to do what voters really do not support,” said Richeson.

She points to a study the Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association did in 2015 where 65 percent of the people surveyed said they favored schools starting after Labor Day while 25 percent opposed it.

“We would like to see the school year preserve July and August as the tourism season for Michigan and start school after Labor Day and go longer into June,” Richeson said.

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