Tourism Spending Boost Critical

April 7, 2008
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A few families have remained in West Michigan this week, to celebrate the annual rite of spring break. For the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, this remains the week of highest volume traffic all year. It beats Thanksgiving, Christmas and every other holiday.

And yet there remains much hand-wringing and worry about the coming tourist season in Michigan, fueled by the fact that the state is recovering from a recession, and Michigan residents are a large part of Michigan tourism.

Next week the Michigan Lodging & Tourism Association is hosting its annual meeting in Grand Rapids, at the Amway Grand Plaza. That is a coup for West Michigan, but the association has its sights set on another coup: State House of Representatives passage of a package of bills approved by the State Senate in March, which would appropriate a safeguarded $50 million (from refinanced tobacco settlement bonds) for tourism promotion, up from the comparatively paltry $10 million currently appropriated.

Industry research shows that for every dollar a state spends on tourism promotion, there is a return of three dollars. Illinois is pending approximately $50 million, Texas spends $63 million, California spends $58 million and Hawaii spends $85 million.

Both the association and the Senate deserve accolades for the package of bills (which also designates 25 percent of the funds be used to promote Michigan business opportunities) that stipulates that all four Michigan seasons receive promotion. The Business Journal, however, believes a key piece of the planning is related to the area in which such promotions are targeted.

It is no secret that most of the Midwest has suffered similarly to Michigan in economic concerns, and neighboring states have traditionally been those most often pitched. That has always seemed short-sighted, though Michigan’s tourism budget has not previously been well-enough funded to be far sighted. Finally, even those within the association are pushing down the sides of that box to “reach out to those states that have stronger economies, containing people who are looking to vacation and experience new places.”

That line of thinking is wholeheartedly encouraged. As one tourism official notes, Michigan is not a “drive-through” state; tourists make a decision to visit these peninsulas of remarkable and unique features.

Perhaps business owners should consider a type of “partnership” with tourism officials — one that uses the usual business recruiting and marketing engines augmented by tourism links and promotion of this state’s vast natural amenities.

The silver lining in Michigan’s long, snowy winter was a “huge” increase in the number of skiers and room nights sold to visitors this year.

Perhaps that silver lining bodes well for summer.

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