Fall Tourism Forecast Lonely

June 5, 2002
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Travel bureaus across Michigan are largely on their own this fall, as the state redirects its promotional spending toward the summer tourist season in the wake of higher ad rates.

Travel Michigan is spending its entire $3.4 million 2001 advertising budget on the “warm weather” travel season to lure travelers from Chicago, Cleveland, Indianapolis and Green Bay to state destinations this summer. That means there’s nothing left to spend on promotion of the state as a travel destination for the fall.

Higher ad rates, combined with the lack of a funding increase over the previous year, prompted Travel Michigan to put the whole $3.4 million toward the summer season. The period between April and August accounts for about half of the state tourism industry’s $10 billion annual economic impact.

Travel Michigan will spend $1.8 million of its ad budget in the Chicago market alone, where ad rates rose 27 percent this year. In previous years, Travel Michigan shared its ad spending between the two seasons. The agency last year spent $2.1 million on promoting the warm-weather travel season, and $1.3 million on fall travel.

In opting to spend this year’s entire ad budget for the summer season, Travel Michigan seeks to maximize its investment in support of the prime travel period.

“We want to really saturate the market because that is our strongest travel season,” Travel Michigan spokeswoman Cindy Snyder said. “We were kind of up against a wall and had to make a decision. We didn’t feel we could get the same amount of exposure (splitting the ad money), given our budget and ad rates.”

Travel Michigan kicked off the 10-week campaign last week with print, broadcast and Internet ads in the Chicago, Indianapolis, Cleveland and Green Bay markets. They include the state’s signature “Great Lakes. Great Times” tagline that’s accompanied with “Not a great distance.”

The decision to eliminate the fall campaign comes after many tourist bureaus in recent years stepped up fall promotions and events to promote annual color tours and expand their local tourism economies.

Felicia Fairchild, executive director of the Saugatuck-Douglas Convention & Visitors Bureau, would have preferred that put something toward a fall ad campaign.

“That’s where we need to shore up the season,” Fairchild said. “We already have a strong summer season.”

Laurel Nease, coordinator of the Grand Haven-Spring Lake Visitors Bureau, said she understands the rationale behind Travel Michigan’s decision, but remained disappointed that local tourism agencies won’t be able to leverage their own fall ad campaigns this year with state efforts.

“If the state’s not taking a leadership role in that, it will make it difficult to be successful in our campaign,” Nease said. “If you want to get your biggest bang for your investment, I can see where you put your investment for summer, but it does leave out growth for other areas.”

Travel Michigan will evaluate whether to do a fall ad campaign for 2002 once its budget is finalized for the state’s next fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. The agency sought a $500,000 increase in 2002 expenditures over the 2001 budget year, but state lawmakers pared the increase back to $200,000, Snyder said.

Restoring the fall campaign also depends on what kind of advertising rate increases occur next year, she said.

“We will definitely have to evaluate the costs. We can presume they’ll definitely go up next year,” Snyder said.

For this fall, Travel Michigan will seek to promote the state through direct e-mail promotions to people who make an inquiry at the state’s Web site, as well as an aggressive news media campaign and special events in target cities, such as grape-stomping planned in September in downtown Chicago, as a way to promote the state’s fall color tours and wine industry.

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