GRAND HAVEN, Mich. — The Michigan Festival and Events Association says it's seeing a post-pandemic trend that indicates people missed annual gatherings when COVID-19 restrictions forced their cancellation.
“Everybody kind of had to damper down their plans, and in 2021 they brought it back,” said Mike Szukent, executive director of the organization.
According to Szukent, since mid-May every festival, fair, and event held within the state has broken revenue records set in 2019. Szukent says despite staffing shortages and long lines, MFEA has found most people to be excited about the return of traditions like the National Cherry Festival, the Venetian Festival, and the Brown Trout Festival.
“[People are] extremely appreciative that they are able to participate in something that they were not able to participate in 2020,” said Szukent.
In West Michigan, Ionia Free Fair organizers believe this year’s festival brought in a record number of people.
Coast Guard Festival, which usually attracts 350,000 visitors, started on Friday. Organizers expect attendance levels to near their averages.
“Our ticket sales and everything else that we’re doing is not really showing any decrease in numbers, so I feel like if we’re not going to get there, we’re going to get close,” said Annie Lengkeek, marketing director.
Lengkeek says the festival installed hand-sanitizing and washing stations and set up contactless ticketing to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, but expects this year’s event to be similar to years past, with concerts and a carnival among the planned activities.
“Everybody looks forward to it, so they were definitely ready to come back,” said Lengkeek.
MFEA estimates 36 million people attend 800 statewide events each year, with the majority taking place in the summer months. Szukent says the industry contributed $1 billion to the state’s economy in 2018, so he hopes their return helps in the state’s recovery.
“That’s bringing people into a local community that would not normally be in that community for that festival, fair, or event and spending money at the restaurants, the bars, the gift shops, at the ice cream parlors,” said Szukent.