Frankenmuth: A lasting impression

The components for a successful tourism experience can be found in “Michigan’s Little Bavaria”.

Aboard the Bavarian Belle paddle boat. Photo credit: Yvonne (Bonnie) Wichtner-Zoia

Aboard the Bavarian Belle paddle boat. Photo credit: Yvonne (Bonnie) Wichtner-Zoia

We were supposed to go sailing for my husband’s sixtieth birthday, but our sailing friends had a last minute obligation and asked to cancel our trip. I scrambled to find a nearby travel destination that would make a lasting birthday impression.

My search began by googling ‘Michigan military museums’, an activity of interest to my husband. Through his search, I discovered the Michigan & Space Heroes Museum in Frankenmuth. It is the only museum in Michigan devoted to the wartime experiences of men and women from the state of Michigan.

The museums discovery prompted an interest in learning more about Frankenmuth. Websites about “Michigan’s Little Bavaria” were easy to find and simple to use. This was the beginning of a pleasant travel experience.

As a surprise trip for my husband, it was lucky that he was on the phone receiving birthday wishes for most of the drive and didn’t notice all the clearly marked signs directing us to Frankenmuth. As we entered the city our initial impression was very favorable – clean, colorful and inviting. Again, signage was located in suitable places to direct a traveler to where they wanted to go. It is important to note that one of the most significant issues for tourism development is the status of community signage, and Frankenmuth provides an excellent example for other communities to emulate.

The Visitors Center, which was also easy to find, had a helpful staff of two who offered a coupon booklet, map, had answers to our questions and directed us to beautifully created brochures related to all the places we wanted to visit.

We arrived on a Saturday afternoon and Main Street was busy but not overly crowded. There were a diverse mixture of people; different races, nationalities; ages and abilities. All of whom seemed genuinely happy to be there. We felt welcomed and relaxed, stopping to listen to a two-person band and even joined others in dance. Downtown Frankenmuth is very walkable, so we meandered over to the Frankenmuth River Place and purchased tickets to ride the Bavarian Belle paddlewheel boat.

Everywhere we stopped, we were treated with respect. It was apparent that frontline employees were trained in hospitality. In addition, employees and residents were willing to share information about their community.

Ninety-year old Artie, father of the Midtown Bed and Breakfast owner, told stories about the Carling Brewing Company and farming life in early Frankenmuth. Our waitress at Prost Wine Bar and Charcuterie provided the recipe for a drink we enjoyed during dinner. And what really struck us is that people everywhere were friendly, they smiled and seemed genuinely happy.

From the moment the search for a destination began to the morning we left, our experience with Frankenmuth, Michigan was memorable.

Tourism First Impressions, a program that will soon be offered by the Michigan State University Extension, is designed to help communities learn their tourism strengths and weaknesses through the eyes of a first-time visitor. Frankenmuth is a fine example of a community with first impressions strengths, which are necessary components for an impressionable tourist experience.