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Yooper Through and Through

Marketing the U.P. doesn't feel like work for Tom Nemacheck.

By Kathy Gibbons

CREDIT Carl Caylor

If you ask Tom Nemacheck, he has the greatest job there is. The executive director of Upper Peninsula Travel & Recreation for the last 27 years says he enjoys what he does more than ever before. While retirement may be on his radar at some point, he’s happily staying put for now because he says it’s an exciting time to be in tourism marketing with so many digi- tal tools available to reach the masses. 

M+E: What are some of your prime areas for corporate events and business conferences? 

TN: Of course, there’s that little thing called Mackinac Island, which is obviously on everybody’s radar when it comes to meetings and events. For association meetings, government meetings, industry meetings, and corporate retreats, the No. 1 areas are the bigger communities: Marquette would be No. 1 … then you would break it down from St. Ignace, Sault Ste. Marie, Houghton, Escanaba, Iron Mountain—those six commu- nities represent about 90% of it. 

M+E: Where do you draw people from? 

TN: A tremendous amount of traffic is coming out of Minnesota and Wisconsin, and the Illinois market comes up through Wisconsin. The western U.P. is four hours from Minneapolis-St. Paul. 

M+E: During the pandemic, even during the earlier lockdown stages, people were flocking to the U.P. to get away to your wide-open spaces. How did that affect your marketing? 

TN: The tourism industry in the U.P. has broken every record we ever had. We realized by about the end of May [2020] that it was an unbelievable boon that was coming our way. … That summer we broke every record we had, [and] last summer, we broke every record from the year before. 

When the vaccine came out and we started to watch what the research was showing, it was about, ‘Man, we’re open- ing the door and getting the hell out of here.’ So, we changed our campaign to ‘Go Outside and Play.’ It came from discussions with our advertising agency and us—all of us grew up with the idea that our parents told us that all the time. So, we decided to use that as a campaign, and the response has been very good.