From sleepy beach town to international destination: The woman behind Saugatuck’s rise
Today, the town of Saugatuck on Michigan’s western coast is a popular destination for tourists around the world. But it wasn’t always that way. When Felicia Fairchild took over as the director of the Saugatuck-Douglas Convention and Visitors Bureau 27 years ago, Saugatuck was just one of many small communities competing to attract visitors to its little strip of Lake Michigan. Now, with Saugatuck securely on the map, Fairchild looks back at her career.
In order to bring tourism to Saugatuck, Fairchild said, she had to get this small town to “think internationally.” She figured out that the American Society of Travel Agents was having a major convention in Taipei, Taiwan, and that no small town had ever presented at the convention.
Most of the presenters were entire countries, with displays that took up entire city blocks. Not only did Fairchild manage to score a small booth for Saugatuck at the convention, she got media attention for being the first small town with an exhibit. She called Saugatuck and its unlikely presence at the event, “the mouse that roared.”
“The mouse that roared” took off. CNN and the China Daily Mail covered the story of the small town that held its own alongside major international hotspots. This coverage eventually amounted to $28,000 of free publicity for Saugatuck, spreading its story around the world.
Yet, Fairchild’s career has had its setbacks. In one infamous incident, Saugatuck’s use of the phrase “The White Coast of Michigan” offended some commissioners. Fairchild said the language was an allusion to a Spanish coastline, and she hadn’t realized it would be interpreted otherwise. Still, she quickly rebounded, instead branding the town as the “Art Coast.”
To hear more about Fairchild’s career in Saugatuck tourism and what she’s doing next – spoiler, it involves a lot of travel! – listen to our interview above.