Granholm Spends Vacation Time Well
Compounding the problem for the industry is the dwindling amount the state has spent in recent years to promote tourism, an industry that employs 173,000 people and generates $817 million in local and state tax revenues.
Given those conditions, travel promoters were thrilled last week to see the freshman governor devote an entire week to promote their industry in hopes of improving business for the summer travel season.
Beyond the immediate benefits of the media attention Granholm’s tour garnered, travel promoters hope the week helped to set the stage for even better ties with the state and stronger efforts behind tourism promotion in the years ahead, particularly once Michigan’s current fiscal crisis improves.
“She’s getting to know the tourism industry and she’s getting to know us and starting to build relationships,” said Steve Wilson, president of the Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
In hitting the road last week, Granholm sought to spark interest among Michigan residents in travel destinations within the state.
Michigan residents spend $4 billion annually on in-state travel, according to Travel Michigan, the state’s travel bureau. That compares with $4.7 billion that state residents spend traveling outside of Michigan.
“How crazy is that when we’ve got all this great stuff here,” Granholm said on Wednesday morning during a stop in Grand Haven, where she went charter boat fishing on Lake Michigan and strolled the city’s waterfront.
She spent the afternoon in Grand Rapids visiting Frederik Meijer Gardens. The week also saw the governor bicycle on Mackinac Island, tour the Soo Locks, sail on a tall ship in Grand Traverse Bay, and visit several other attractions in the state.
“What this tour is all about is trying to get people vacationing in Michigan. We have so many gems in this state,” she said. “This is about promoting the home team.”
And right now the home team will take what it can get.
The Michigan State University Tourism Center’s annual industry outlook forecasts a 2 percent increase in travel volumes this year but a 2 percent decline in travel spending. That forecast comes after a 2002 travel season that saw a deep 10 percent decline in travel spending, despite a 3.1 percent increase in travel volumes.
The state of the industry — driven down by the economy and lingering concerns stemming from the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and the war with Iraq — lends a certain sense of urgency to the governor’s promotional tour.
“From the industry’s point of view, the timing clearly couldn’t be better because times are tough. The industry has had a very rough couple of years,” Travel Michigan Director George Zimmerman said.
Given the state’s fiscal problems, there’s little Travel Michigan can do other than focus as much media attention as possible on the state to counter the conditions affecting the industry.
Travel Michigan is expected to see yet another decrease in its promotional budget for the state’s 2004 fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. The $5.5 million recently authorized by the Senate in an appropriations bill that was sent on to the House is down from $6.4 million in the current fiscal year.
As recently as FY 2001, Travel Michigan spent $8 million to promote the state as a travel destination, most of it in neighboring states to bring people into Michigan. The trend is the same nationwide, as many states trimmed tourism promotion budgets in the wake of difficult finances, according to the Travel Industry Association of America.
While Michigan ranks above the national average of $3.5 million, it pales in comparison to two competitors in the Great Lakes region.
Illinois, which on the strength of a statewide room tax, and even with a 9 percent decline from 2002’s budget, will spend some $49.7 million this year on tourism promotion, second only to Hawaii’s $56 million, according to a recent analysis of state tourism office budgets by the Travel Industry Association.
Pennsylvania will spend $35.1 million this year, third in the nation, the association reported.
“We’re up against some well-financed folks,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman and other travel promoters say last week’s tour demonstrates that the governor has embraced and is committed to the tourism industry. The question now is whether and how well it all translates into increased business this year, as well as the effects on state support for the industry in the years ahead.
“This is a great start,” said Marci Cisneros, executive director of the Grand Haven-Spring Lake Visitors Bureau. “This is the beginning, hopefully, of a lot of good things to come.”