November 24, 2014

Charity Island recognized as part of award-winning tourism collaboration

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The award close up.
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(Left to right) Robert and Karen Wiltse, Charity Island Excursions, Heidi Dewald, Michigan Sunrise Tours, Melanie Libby and Jack Matthias, Thunder Bay Resort, pose with the award their collaborative effort received from the Michigan Travel Commission.
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By Tim Barnum|Staff writer
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WHITNEY TOWNSHIP — A collaborative effort between Charity Island Excursions, Michigan Sunrise Tours and Thunder Bay Resort to promote Northeastern Michigan tourism recently received the Governor’s Award for Innovative Collaboration in Tourism from the Michigan Travel Commission.

According to Robert Wiltse, owner of Charity Island Excursions and co-founder of Michigan Sunrise Tours, the three-pronged collaboration began in 2006.

But this collaboration wasn’t a spur of the moment idea. Wiltse says Tom Ferguson, with the Michigan Sunrise Association, put the wheels in motion for this sort of team effort about 20 years ago.

“He went out and tried to pull a bunch of people together to try to draw some of the tour bus business going to Frankenmuth,” Wiltse said. He added that when Charity Island Excursions, both independently and as a part of the collaboration, began to attract tour bus trips, the floating excursion really took off.

“This year we’ve got about 60 tour busses booked. About half of them are from out of state,” Wiltse said, adding many of the tourists are repeat guests. “I ask people if this is their first trip and there’s always three or four people who came back.

“They keep coming back. They keep coming to Arenac County.”

Since the inception of the 2006 collaboration, Wiltse says 150 tour busses have made the trip that takes tourists to Charity Island and then redirects them north along the coast of Lake Huron to view lighthouses and other sites on a trip to Thunder Bay Resort in Alpena.

“I realized you needed a multi-day itinerary,” he said. “It’s a maritime theme and a maritime history of Northeast Michigan.

“I looked around and said ‘What do we got?’… I said ‘I can’t do this alone,’” Wiltse said. “In order to make my one business successful I ended up promoting the whole region.

“Really, what we had to do is work together.”

Wiltse also says this year was the first time the tourism collaboration award was given out by the Michigan Travel Commission and that the collaboration that includes Arenac and Iosco counties and the city of Alpena was one of three recognized by the commission.

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