Hot Spots Get Tourism Funds

August 15, 2003
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Funding for regional tourism campaigns around Michigan will remain intact for next year, even as the state's travel bureau copes with yet another budget reduction.

The recent budget agreement between Gov. Jennifer Granholm and lawmakers earmarks $5.7 million to promote Michigan's $12.8 billion tourism industry in the state's 2004 fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. That's down $700,000 from the $6.4 million in FY 2003, although significantly more than what Travel Michigan could have received for travel promotion under some budget scenarios that lawmakers floated in Lansing in response to the state's fiscal crisis.

Despite the budget decrease, and through further in-house belt tightening, Travel Michigan plans to maintain funding for several partnerships around the state to promote participating communities and travel destinations. The nine separate partnerships in 2003 include the $200,000 "Beachtowns" campaign that features nine Lake Michigan communities — Saugatuck, Holland, Grand Haven and Muskegon among them — and the Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau's $1 million "Michigan's West Coast" promotion.

"The funding will be there," said Kirsten Tava, media relations manager for Travel Michigan.

Matching contributions from participating local visitor bureaus, Travel Michigan provided $250,000 this year for "West Coast," which markets the region around the Midwest as a vacation and convention destination, and $100,000 for Beachtowns, which promotes shoreline destination communities during the summer travel season in Indianapolis and Chicago, and in Chicago also for the fall.

Altogether, Travel Michigan earmarked $960,000 toward nine separate promotional partnerships in 2003. The partnerships are becoming an increasingly key component of the state's strategy to promote Michigan as a travel destination, particularly as funding for Travel Michigan continues to decline and advertising costs rise.

"In some ways they're becoming more and more important," Travel Michigan Director George Zimmerman said.

As recently as 2001, the agency received $8 million in its promotional budget. With funding expected to remain stagnant or decline further in the near future, the partnerships enable Travel Michigan to leverage what money is available with the local contributions to mount an effective marketing campaign.

"When everybody throws in a little, it adds up and can have a significant impact in some of our markets," Tava said.

Zimmerman credits the promotional partnerships with a more than 100 percent increase in the number of people using the state's Web site, www.michigan.org, to learn about attractions and destinations in Michigan. Research data shows about two-thirds of the people who access a travel-related Web site end up taking a trip there, he said.

In July alone, the Travel Michigan site recorded more than 557,000 "user sessions." That compares with 267,000 in the same month a year ago.

Some of the increase is attributable to a general trend in the greater use of the Internet by travelers to plan their trips, Zimmerman said. The promotional campaigns that direct consumers to the state or a local Web site for more information has played a large role in the increased usage, he said.

"Certainly for general information and getting people to find out more information, things are going very well," Zimmerman said.

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