Feb 132018
 
Infographic of 1700% membership fee increase.

The Mackinaw Visitor's Bureau unfairly increased fees on Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping by 1700%.

The cost of operating a campground and booking a campsite in Michigan will soar unless an alarming 1,700 percent membership fee increase is reversed on three Mackinaw City campgrounds.

Last November, the Mackinaw Area Visitors Bureau made a sudden, unannounced membership fee increase that pushed the cost of advertising with the Visitors Bureau out of the reach of the Mackinaw KOA, Tee Pee Campground, and Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping, all family owned and operated campgrounds. "My membership fee jumped from around $500 in 2017, to over $10,000 in 2018. The other campground owners and I were stunned!" said Vince Rogala, General Manager and co-owner of Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.

Illustration of unchecked powers of Mackinaw Tourist Bureau illustration by David Harston.

The Mackinaw Visitor's Bureau has no oversight and is using it's unilateral power to increase fees and to make it unaffordable for campgrounds to be advertised in their number one ranking web portal for Mackinaw City Tourist Information.

In a written explanation to Rogala from the Mackinaw Area Visitors Bureau's Board of Directors, the Board stated that they "realized no increase had occurred for over 20 years." However, the fee increase solely targets campground owners, as the 2018 rate increase for a gift shop was only $50, a restaurant just $70, and a golf course went up just $30. "How do you justify a $9,910 increase for our campground - in just one year?" asked Rogala.

Don Molosky, attorney for Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping said, "It is clear that this enormous 1,700 percent increase is not part of a uniform adjustment to account for cost-of-living changes." Rogala worries, "It is easy to see how Convention and Visitors Bureaus throughout Michigan could unfairly institute these extreme membership increases, forcing Michigan campground owners to choose the lesser of two evils - either pass on these higher costs to their customers, or refuse to pay and get kicked out of their local visitors bureau." At this time, all three Mackinaw area campgrounds have rejected the 1,700 percent increase and for the first time in decades, camping will not be marketed by the Mackinaw Area Visitors Bureau.

Attorneys for the Mackinaw Area Visitors Bureau in a written response stated, "Perhaps the increase feels sharp because the Visitors Bureau had been sorely undercharging its associate members (campgrounds) for the past several years." "How I am underpaying?" expressed Rogala, "I already pay $20,000 in room taxes, likely more than most of the board members who voted for this shameful price increase."

The Mackinaw Area Visitors Bureau apparently believes it has the right to not only require campgrounds to pay a room tax on their rental cabins, but unlike hotels, also require campgrounds to purchase a marketing membership. "I always thought this "double dipping" was unfair, but in prior years the membership was only $500 so we overlooked it. Now with our fee inflated to over $10,000, plus paying $20,000 in room taxes, it's just unacceptable. Add that up and for $30,000 I can afford to hire my own marketing firm!" stated Rogala.

Photo of Vince Rogala, Co-Owner of Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping.

"My membership fees were increased by 1700%," reports Vince Rogala, Co-owner of Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping in Mackinaw City, MI.

The Community Convention or Tourism Marketing Act has no oversight agency where members can protest the actions of their Visitors Bureau. "There is absolutely no accountability. There needs to be a State oversight agency to provide checks and balances on unprincipled Visitors Bureaus," voiced Rogala. "Currently, I am reaching out to my State Senator, Wayne Schmidt of the 37th District, as he has introduced Senate Bill 703 & 707 that will strengthen the power of Visitors Bureaus."

"I want to make Senator Schmidt aware of the problems his constituents are experiencing. I hope there is a way to fix the flaws, otherwise I think it would be irresponsible to give Convention and Visitors Bureaus more power. This is a First Amendment violation, no one should be forced to pay for advertising they don't want or need, especially to an organization that uses those funds to act in a hostile manner towards the very lodging facility that pays the room assessment," explained Rogala.

Jo Ann Cooley, owner of Tee Pee Campground, located just outside Mackinaw City, noted that, "Campgrounds attract visitors to the area who support restaurants, gift shops, and the historic parks, etc. Many of our camping guests have friends and family who don't have RV’s but join them on vacation by staying in hotels. In other words - campgrounds arguably promote tourism in our area, not just for our benefit, but for all the local businesses that advertise with the Mackinaw Area Visitors Bureau."

By law, Visitors Bureaus are exclusively just for lodging owners. Rogala reflects, "I always thought it was odd that area attractions are treated as second-class citizens and not guaranteed a seat on the Bureau's boardrooms. Yet, it's the area attractions that bring in tourism dollars to Northern Michigan. People travel to a destination, 'for an experience,' not for a hotel room. Area attractions should have a seat at the table."

"The creation of a Visitors Bureau as a marketing firm for a tourist district may have been a good idea in the 1980's before the Internet existed. With the advent of Google, Facebook, Expedia, Trip Advisor, and Yelp, the need for such an entity is no longer the same as it was 40 years ago," stated Rogala.

Rogala stated, "It is obvious to any reasonable person that the Convention or Tourism Marketing Act was intended to create a rising tide to - lift all boats in tourism communities - not just to promote a few hotel owners who may dominate a Visitors Bureau boardroom. I hope our Michigan legislators will listen to our concerns, all we are asking is for our Visitors Bureaus to act with integrity."


Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping's Response to the TV 9&10 Investigation of Visitors Bureau Fee Increase


For additional perspective on how Visitors Bureaus hurt independent businesses, watch the following YouTube video that outlines issues suffered by a Bed and Breakfast at the hands of the Sleeping Bear Dunes.

Taxing My Free Speech (posted by Mackinac Center)

Michigan bed and breakfast David Gersenson has asked the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation to help him fight a tax for advertising he doesn't want or need.


  13 Responses to “The Cost of Camping May Increase In Michigan”

  1. How sad that this is the way the Visitors Bureau treats these businesses. We camp at Mill Creek at least once each year along with several of our family members and friends. We also shop in town and eat at restaurants. Why are they so greedy all of a sudden? Are they being punished for other businesses that don’t bring in enough money?

  2. Your campgrounds speak for themselves. All the people that come back and tell others. Don’t pay the extra. Figure out your own advertising. Good luck with this
    Kelly from Alma

  3. That’s ridiculous. Private campgrounds will have to raise their rates to cover the increase which will drive campers to other places like outside the city, or to the state parks. You’re stabbing your local campgrounds in the back. I have stayed at Mill Creek and spent my money in Mackinaw City, so the campgrounds enhance tourism. Better think twice on this one.

  4. The Visitors Bureau is normally made of a board – usually owners of the hotels/campgrounds are on the board – I am curious who actually is in charge of the bureau and who determines the rates ….

  5. This is an outrage. Sounds like the Millionaire Family that owns most of the Hotels in Mackinaw , are trying to squash the Competition. How much money do they reall need?? It’s just pure greed. Also sounds like they control the Visitors Bureau. They’re just The Walmart Family of the Mackinaw Hotel business. Find out who they are, and avoid their hotels. I do, they don’t get my money

    • …Yep, & they don’t just own most of the hotels. They’ve got several restaurants and other tourist ventures in the area. None of them get my money either. Ruining the town, IMO.

    • The family of influence as of 2018 also own the Mackinaw City crossings.

  6. Frank, Vince, Chris and Ed – Ma, Dad and you guys/ladies have built a US wide reputation beyond all dream’s.
    You and your families will do fine. – The requirements nowadays are out of control.
    Thanks for the 40 years of pleasure you have and continue to provide us.
    Kubota – Frederick Fritz

  7. Being from 1970’s Mackinaw City, I don’t understand how a visitors bureau does nothing more than make money advertising. Back then businesses were known for their product not for how many times they were on a place mat. People migrated to Mackinaw to experience the atmosphere the good people of Mackinaw generated. Not the commercialization of an entire town. Camping is probably the last experience left from those great days, don’t run it off like the other simple pleasures from them days have been.

  8. Congratulations to the visitors board. I’ll be taking my tourism dollars to Petoskey.

  9. I hope the campgrounds stand there ground. These fees are so unreasonable. I know families that plan their families reunions around coming to Mill Creek. I introduced my family to Mill Creek. Please, Please don’t bend to the “big” brother attitude to have to pay these fees. You don’t. Your campgrounds provide a valuable commody to Mackinaw City. And it is sad they don’t understand this. Your reputation speaks for it self, when in conversations I hear nothing but rave revues. You will survive this, The public is behind you.

  10. Mill creek is a great camping spot. Don’t need to be in the visitor guide. You are well know and word of mouth will keep you great! We love fall camping here.

  11. Bob & Bernice from Indiana, formerly Mich.- The fees are terrible! Don’t pay the fees! You have such a great reputation you don’t need their advertising, You are so well known for the many years of providing such a beautiful place for our family to camp since our kids were little, about 40 years! We still go up to camp as well as our family. Everyone is so nice, helpful, and pleasant. We have spent lots of money in Mackinaw City in all of our years. Thank you. Hang in their!

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