Crippled by COVID-19, Detroit's tourism industry finds new ways to promote The Motor City

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Posted at 4:15 AM, Jul 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-08 07:05:37-04

(WXYZ) — The U.S.-Canada border will remain closed to non-essential travel through July 21 to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Related: Canceled events in metro Detroit this year could cost area more than $176M in spending

The safety measure brings with it, a major loss in tourism dollars for both Detroit and Windsor.

“There’s no question we’ve had to make critical adjustments," said Larry Alexander, the CEO of Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau. "There’s a lot more social media right now, a lot less advertising that’s being done.”

The pandemic has forced Detroit's tourism industry to adjust how it promotes The Motor City and who it promotes to.

“We’re not doing any international marketing at all right now," Alexander told 7 Action News. “We’ve really begun to focus on what we refer to as a 3-5 hour drive radius."

The Visitors Bureau is upping its efforts to attract travelers from neighboring states like Ohio and Indiana; more likely to make a day trip into Detroit right now.

This is generally the peak season for The Henry Ford, a go-to destination for Canadian visitors. The museum just re-opened last weekend with limited capacity after more than two months closed.

Carol Kendra is VP of Business Development, Strategy, and Engagement for The Henry Ford. She said Canadians account for about 4 percent of all visitors to the museum, roughly around 72,000 people per year. But those 72,000 people are generally also spending money at hotels, local restaurants, boutiques, and fan sporting events, all hurting or non-existent right now due to the pandemic.

“It’s actually 65 percent of our total international market," Kendra said.

And Detroit's international market for tourism is frozen according to Alexander.

The same scenario is happening across the river, said the CEO of Tourism Windsor Essex, Gordon Orr.

Orr said Ontario's wineries rely on Americans for about 20 percent of their annual visitor numbers. And then, there's casinos.

“I know Caesars Windsor for example relies on 33 percent of their business is from the U.S.," Orr said. The casino is temporarily closed, as Ontario remains in phase 2 of it's re-opening, allowing for gatherings of no more than 10 people.

When tourism finally does rebound, some changes will likely remain, like virtual exhibitions and online learning, something The Henry Ford has implemented more of during its closure to in-person visitors.

“We don’t anticipate a lot of field trips, so if the schools can’t come then we will provide field trips online," Kendra said.

As an independent non-profit, The Henry Ford relies on 65 percent earned revenue, and hasn't received federal help from PPP due to its size, Kendra said.

"In-between Memorial Day and Labor Day we would see about 750,000 visitors," which is why she said membership renewals and donations are so important right now.

Both Alexander and Orr said they're eager for the border to re-open to leisure travel, but want to make sure visitors feel safe before that happens.

"We know that we have great assets, that if we can get the people to come in, they will enjoy being a part of it," Alexander said.

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