Hosting International Visitors in the E.U.P.
On March 8th, KANAVA International provided a training session in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan on “Hosting International Visitors” that discussed the growing trend in international tourists to the US, what the Eastern Upper Peninsula (EUP) offers foreign visitors, and some differences and expectations of the international traveler. The team of presenters included KANAVA President and CEO, Susan Puska, a retired Army Colonel, originally from the Soo, who has worked in England, China, South Korea, and Germany, and has also traveled widely in Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. COO Carol Yee is an international development practitioner, who has worked on multiple projects in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.
According to the Department of Commerce, the number of visitors to the US is expected to reach a new record of 77.3 million in 2016, an increase of over 2 million when compared to 2014. Two countries are expected to account for almost one-half of the projected growth between 2014 and 2020: Mexico (27% of the expected total growth with 15 million additional visitors) and China (19%).
When considering how the tourist industry in the EUP can take advantage of this growing trend in international visitors, the KANAVA team emphasized that international travelers would appreciate the area’s basic strengths: its unique location between three of the five Great Lakes – Lake Superior, Lake Huron, and Lake Michigan, close proximity to Canada, long history, and natural environment. In addition to the Great Lakes’ long shoreline, the EUP’s natural beauty includes inland lakes and streams, thick forests, open farmland, lighthouses on the Great Lakes, the rushing water of the Upper and Lower Tahquamenon Falls, and much more. It is a special place that holds one-tenth of the world’s fresh water, and where one can easily get away from city lights to see the night sky, and even catch a view of the northern lights.
The quiet natural beauty of the EUP is enriched by its long history beginning with Native American cultures of the Sault and Bay Mills Tribes that international travelers, from Europe to China, appreciate and want to learn more about. The area’s European history under the flags of France, England, and America, offers another interesting perspective. The EUP has two of the oldest cities in the country – Sault Ste. Marie (1668) and St. Ignace (1671) – and the Soo Locks are an engineering feat that draws over 700,000 visitors each year.
They talked about how the area could attract and serve more international visitors by offering experiences that link visitors to the area’s natural environment and activities, including making established events more accessible to those with cultural and language differences. Awareness of local offerings is key to reaching out to international visitors, and an active use of social media is a low cost way to reach this market. And there may be new ways to look at the area’s offerings. For example, could the area’s hockey be marketed to international visitors? China, for example, which will host the 2022 Winter Olympics, is experiencing winter sports fever. Additionally, hockey is now a popular activity for children in Beijing as indoor activities provide great exercise and protection against air pollution. Is there an opportunity for the UP to market hockey camps to foreign visitors?
Another topic addressed was the idea of Cultural Intelligence – the capability to relate and work effectively across cultures. These skills and knowledge help businesses and the hospitality industry around the world learn how to anticipate the needs and interests of visitors. Taking the time to gain a better understanding of cultural differences can translate into international tourists staying longer, coming year round, making return visits, and telling their friends about their positive experiences.
The KANAVA team also cautioned area businesses on the risk of offending these guests. Typically, international tourists are well-traveled, they have researched the area before they’ve arrived, and they want to experience the most from their trip. Businesses should not assume they know what the traveler wants, instead give the international visitor a wide range of choices, and allow them to choose.
In doing research on international travelers’ perspectives of America and the EUP, Susan and Carol found that there are many differing views, both positive and negative. From Chinese websites, they found positive comments and interest in the Soo and American Indian culture. Additionally, Chinese advise their friends, “[Americans] don’t know anything about China, but don’t let that bother you.” Comments from Japanese travelers to the US, warned other Japanese travelers that, “Most Americans think Japanese are Chinese or Korean, try not to be offended,” while also concluding that “Americans are so weirdly optimistic, you just can’t stay irritated at them.”
International travelers will continue to visit the US in increasing numbers and this presents an opportunity for the EUP to reach out to these guests by increasing their awareness of local offerings. While they may come from different cultures, fundamentally, being warm, friendly, and open to these guests and assisting them in having a wonderful experience in the beautiful Upper Peninsula of Michigan can enhance their experience and contribute to the region’s economic strength.