A view of East Grand Traverse Bay

A view of East Grand Traverse Bay


Don’t get me wrong. I love autumn. It’s just that I’d prefer not to get such an early start on it, thank you very much.

This is what I get for complaining about those 90-something temperatures a couple of weeks ago: several days of wind, rain, and downright chilly temps that left us feeling as though we’d fallen into a deep sleep and missed eight or nine weeks of summer and fall. Made me want to head for the kitchen and start cooking a big batch of chili.

Hopefully, that’s all in the past for now. Because on Monday we got to welcome our millionth visitor to the Traverse City Visitor Center, which is a big deal for us. Edmund and Kacee Cheung had never visited Traverse City before, but they wanted to celebrate their second wedding anniversary in a special place.

Kacee and Edmund Chung with a basketful of Traverse City goodies.

Kacee and Edmund Cheung with a basketful of Traverse City goodies.

Little did they know when they walked into the Visitor Center to get help finding a room that they were about to be the millionth visitors to go through that door.

“We’d been hearing about Traverse City on the radio, and we finally went on line to www.traversecity.com and it looked like a nice place so we decided to come here,” said Edmund, 36. “We sure didn’t expect this!”

The Cheungs, who recently moved to Michigan from Canada and now live in Troy, received  a special Traverse City gift basket filled with treats, coupons and passes assembled by Visitor Center Manager Kathee McCafferty, who spent several months making preparations for the announcement of the millionth visitor.

A visible reminder of the landmark event is the latest display in the center’s exhibit hall, which has been decked with photographs of the city’s biggest attractions, lists of its most prominent accolades, international flags and a push-pin map showing all the countries that have sent visitors to Traverse City over the years, from Madagascar to Kazakhstan.

The Cheungs were hoping to get in some jet-skiing, explore downtown Traverse City a little and maybe rent bicycles during their stay.

“We heard the beaches here were really nice,” said Kacee, 30. “And I’m from California, so I know good beaches.”

Each year, over 70,000 people come through the Visitor Center looking for directions, searching for information or asking for advice. They’re just a fraction of the two million-plus tourists who visit the city each year, of course, but they keep our visitor center staff on their toes.

Volunteers Sherry Freels (second from right) and Sally Bell (far right) offer advice to a visiting family at the Traverse City Visitor Center.

Volunteers Sherry Freels (second from right) and Sally Bell (far right) offer advice to a visiting family.

All year round, the handsome high-roofed building at the corner of Union Street and the Grandview Parkway attracts visitors from far and near. They stop in to get driving directions, to purchase concert tickets or to pick up a free copy of our annual Traverse City area guide.

Some come from faraway places like Australia or Taiwan, and others live just a few blocks away. (Lots of local residents turn to us when they’re about to host friends and family members and don’t know where to take them.)

The visitor center is operated by my employer -- the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, a nonprofit agency that works to safeguard and protect our leading industry (tourism) by promoting Traverse City as a friendly, relaxing and exciting place for visitors. For nearly three decades we’ve been doing that job.

Sometimes, that means educating local residents about the important role played by seasonal visitors in the well-being of the Traverse City area.  More often, it means telling the Traverse City story to potential vacationers through advertising, person-to-person contacts and printed publications. In addition, CVB representatives work with meeting planners, travel agents and tour operators to help them arrange trouble-free visits for their clients, and our website is one of the area’s most widely-consulted sources for up-to-date information about attractions, events, restaurants and lodging options.

The Visitor Center in Summer

The Visitor Center in Summer

But when you get right down to it, the up-close-and-personal work of welcoming and helping people is most visible in the Visitor Center. A big barnlike building at the foot of Union Street, was designed to be a beautiful “entry point” to the area. Its white pine columns reflect our region’s rich logging history and its high roof line evokes the train depot that once occupied the spot where it now stands. Just last year, visitors from 39 different states and 19 foreign counties signed our guestbook.

The Center stocks more than 400 brochures, maps and copies of our magazine and area guide, and its hallway is used to display a frequently-changed series of educational exhibits highlighting our region. In addition, the building provides public restrooms and sells tickets to popular community events. It is operated by the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau Education Foundation, which gives five scholarships to area students who pursue careers in the hospitality industry.

The Visitor Center reception desk is staffed by 103 enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteers who love to share what they know about the Traverse City area. Many have been working here since the first day the center opened. Other dedicated volunteers work on our toll-free telephone line helping visitors who prefer to get their information over the phone.

They put in long hours -- during the summer and fall from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays.