SOUTH HAVEN — Lake Michigan has traditionally lured tourists to Southwest Michigan. But apparently, the region’s agricultural attributes are also a draw.
At least that’s what editors at an international travel magazine think.
Earlier this week, Condé Nast Traveler named Southwest Michigan a Top 20 international tourist destination for 2020, along with such better known locales as Dubai, Copenhagen, Okinawa (Japan), Slovenia, Spain’s Canary Islands and Southeastern Australia.
The honor caught South Haven Visitors Bureau Executive Director Scott Reinert by surprise. When asked Friday if he knew about the listing, Reinert confessed he had not.
“No I was not aware,” he said. “Being listed as a travel destination alongside so many fabulous international locations is quite an honor.”
In coming up with its Top 20 list, the magazine’s editorial staff said it purposely chooses destinations throughout the world that possess amenities that would appeal to a wide variety of tourist interests.
“We aim to compile a list that is geographically diverse but also has points of interest for every traveler, whether you’ll fly for unparalleled stargazing, gorilla spotting in the wild, or shopping in Tangier,” the editors wrote in the Top 20 article’s introduction. “We know that you’re using this list throughout the year to plan your trips, so we vary the types of destinations on here, from summer escapes like western Michigan to far-flung locales like southeastern Australia.”
Condé Nast Traveler is an award-winning, luxury tourism and lifestyle publication based in New York.
Unlike other Top 10 or Top 20 listings posted online or in magazines, the publication’s listing was not based on a popularity contest – where people nominate their favorite destination over and over again. Rather the magazine’s editorial staff surveyed its travel staff and network of correspondents who are based throughout the world, such as Chicago-based travel writer and editor Nina Kokotas Hahn, who wrote the synopsis on why Southwest Michigan made the Top 20 travel destination list for 2020.
For her article, Hahn chose to focus on tourism attractions in South Haven, Fennville and Saugatuck.
But unlike writing about the draws Southwest Michigan is noted for – the sandy beaches of Lake Michigan or the fall color tours along rural roadways, Hahn highlighted attractions that are gaining in popularity – outdoor experiences and locally produced food and beverages that are prepared and served at a growing number of restaurants, wineries and breweries.
“Ocean-like coastlines and a laid-back vibe have always been Southwest Michigan’s biggest draws,” Hahn wrote. “But recently, the lakefront region has embraced a grown-up take on agritourism and reemphasized its focus on family farms – after all, Michigan is the country’s second most agriculturally diverse state, behind California.”
Examples of agriculturally based attractions Hahn highlighted included Virtue Cider, a 48-acre farm near Fennville that offers live music, a barn-style tasting room and a new cider house. Other attractions she wrote about were Modales Wines and Waypost Brewing Co., near Fennville, the Pennyroyal Cafe & Provision café in Saugatuck and The Fields of Michigan in South Haven. When it opened earlier this year, The Fields became one of the first “glamping” or luxury outdoor camping spots in the Midwest.
The attractions Hahn chose to write about didn’t surprise Reinert.
“There’s no doubt that beyond the lake and beaches, visitors are becoming very interested in other attractions and amenities including agriculture and outdoor recreation,” he said.
“We’ve always seen somewhat of an interest (in outdoor recreation and agritourism) by our visitors, but it definitely seems that the younger demographic is having more of an impact in growing outdoor experiences and activities.”