Advertising, Marketing & PR, Economic Development, and Travel & Tourism

Ad money delivers increase in statewide tourism

State pulled in $17.7 billion from tourism last year.

November 6, 2012
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Ad money pays off in form of increased state tourism
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LANSING — Pure Michigan, regional tourism organizations and researchers are working together to attract visitors from outside of Michigan — and spending less money to do it than other states.

“In 2012, there are six outstanding states for tourism. Among them, Hawaii spends $75 million on advertising, California spends $61 million, Florida spends $36 million and Michigan’s budget is only $25 million,” said Paul Stansbie, chair of the Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Grand Valley State University.

Stansbie said despite the challenging economy last year, the number of tourists increased 4 percent throughout the world.

“People still travel — the only change is how much they spend on their trip,” he said. “For us, the challenge is how to let them choose Michigan.”

Sally Laukitis, executive director of the Holland Area Convention and Visitors bureau, said her agency is spending $550,000 in direct advertising this year. She said advertising is an important tool to attract tourists.

“Our budget has increased significantly, and I would like to grow our marketing budget in the future,” she said. “The more money you have, the more profit you will see.”

“All you have to do is travel through Michigan to notice what a beautiful place it is in terms of nature beauty, arts and wine,” Mike Norton, media relations director from Traverse City Convention and Visitors Bureau. He said that, for decades, Michigan never let anybody else know about that natural beauty, and the state’s tourism industry suffered for it.

“The state’s tourism industry improved hugely in the last six years by promotion and advertising,” Norton said. “It brings huge advantages to our economy. Traverse City is in great shape now because of tourism and because money comes back to us in terms of revenue.”

According to Pure Michigan, the advertising campaign created by Travel Michigan, Michigan’s tourism industry brought in $17.7 billion in revenue in 2011.

GVSU’s Stansbie said the state can get a strong return on its money. “Right now for every one dollar we spend on advertising, we can get $4.90 in revenue for the state. We are only spending money to get money.”

Pure Michigan’s $25 million budget this year is almost five times more than its $5.4 million budget in 2011, according to Michelle Begnoche, communications advisor for the agency. She said this year the campaign focuses on national tourist destinations.

“This summer we have a 23 percent increase in visitors from outside the state,” said Norton from the Traverse City Bureau.

Norton said Traverse City made a huge push to reach out-of-state visitors seven or eight years ago. “Almost 90 percent of visitors to Traverse City came from the state,” he said. “We have new visitors from Germany and the United Kingdom and an increased number of visitors from Asia.”

“Since the economy was struggling more, we began advertising outside the state,” Norton added. “It is not huge, but since we started from zero, it is notable for us.” He said Traverse City has spent $4 million this year and most of it goes into promotional advertising.

“One of the benefits of attracting visitors from areas outside the state is that the farther people travel to get to their destination, the longer they are likely to stay and the more money they are likely to spend while there,” Begnoche said.

She said among the three advertising campaigns Pure Michigan conducted this year, the largest was its spring/summer campaign, which included a national cable advertising series that focused on attracting international tourists.

“Regional markets are being targeted by our fall campaign,” she said. Those include Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, South Bend, Milwaukee and Green Bay.

She also said travelers in Michigan are now largely familiar with the Pure Michigan brand.

“We are now taking that message farther out — especially to areas of the country like Texas and the southern states — that Michigan is a terrific national tourism destination.”

The television commercials air nationally more than 5,000 times on 25 cable networks, including news channels and others such as the golf, cooking and weather channels.

Stansbie said Pure Michigan uses different strategies to promote the state. “One is motivated advertising,” he said. “They try to say that Michigan can take you back to nature.”

He said another strategy is providing one theme for each hot spot around the state to attract all travelers. “Sunlight is one of them and the Great Lakes is another one.”

Regional tourism groups are partnering with Pure Michigan to promote their own areas, according to Traverse City’s Norton.

“We have a series of buses in Chicago that have Traverse City ads on them,” he said. “We have billboards in Times Square advertising Traverse City.”

Laukitis said the Holland bureau is working with Pure Michigan but at the same time, promoting Holland in newspapers, magazines and on social media sites.

“We are creating a new website,” Laukitis said. “We are working on radio and buying full-page ads in women’s magazines that go to specific geographical areas such as Detroit, Indianapolis and South Bend. We have our ads on professional sports media and we are also doing promotion with university programs.”

And the outcome is successful, Stansbie said. In 2011, 36 percent of people in the world were aware of Michigan, compared to 21 percent in 2010, he said.

Laukitis said 1.2 million to 1.3 million people visited the Holland area in 2011. “Every year we see a lot of international visitors. That’s remained pretty consistent over the last nine or 10 years,” she said. She said last year Holland had visitors from 64 foreign countries and 49 states — all except Rhode Island.

“Puremichigan.org is the No. 1 tourism website in the country,” said Stansbie. “Hawaii has three times the budget compared with ours, but we still have more people check out the website.”

He said tourism officials and researchers need to keep working with the state government to continuously reinforce the market through advertising.

“We are almost there,” he said. “But the thing is, if you put it away a few years, a lot of the awareness will be gone. That is a waste of money.”

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