Economic Development and Travel & Tourism

A plan for Michigan’s tourism industry

May 7, 2013
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A plan for Michigan's tourism industry
Pure Michigan attracted 3.8 million out-of-state tourists in 2012 to sights such as the Pictured Rocks in the U.P. Image via fb.com

The Pure Michigan campaign has proven to be very successful in driving tourism traffic to the state.

The campaign earned the state $1.1 billion in visitor spending during 2012 and attracted 3.8 million out-of-state visitors.

Now, Sarah Nicholls, Michigan State University associate professor of tourism, said it is time for the travel and tourism industry to build on the momentum that the campaign has generated.

“We have a great campaign in Pure Michigan in that we are bringing more visitors to the state, and now what we need to do is really deliver an experience that meets or exceeds the expectations that people have formed as a result of seeing those fantastic (advertisements),” Nicholls said. “Because they are so good they raise expectations quite high, so we need to deliver as far as the product we have, which would include our accommodations, attractions (and) transportation system. Service is critical in the tourism and hospitality industry — being able to provide a consistently excellent service experience to visitors wherever they are in the state.”

Nicholls said that businesses and organizations that see themselves as part of the travel industry are already engaged, and a new five-year strategic plan will help to provide direction as well as reach out to businesses that might not realize the integral role they play in representing the state and regions to tourists.

“I think the industry is much more united now than it was five or 10 years ago,” she said. “The degree of collaboration has increased dramatically, so in that aspect it’s really more of the same … There are other providers, say gas stations around the state, they probably don’t see themselves in the tourism industry, but every tourist who is in a car needs gas, and that is part of their experience.

“So really opening up the eyes of nontraditional tourism providers as well as Michigan residents (is important). When you travel in Michigan you meet people who may or may not be in the industry and every experience you have can affect your overall impression of the place and the level of satisfaction. It’s really about getting everyone involved and being an ambassador for the state and for the tourism industry.”

Well timed with the goals of the industry-wide plan, Experience Grand Rapids will roll out the Certified Tourism Ambassador Program this year, a national training program that provides destination training to boost staff’s understanding of the region and activities in the market. The program already is used in Lansing and Kalamazoo.

“I think it’s a fantastic program,” Nicholls said. “Lansing has had hundreds of people go through that program. Some of the hotels in Lansing pride themselves on having every single one of their front desk people having gone through that program. It’s a great way to help people in the area learn more about the area, as well as customer service and help the city as a whole provide a more consistent experience for visitors.”

The complete strategic plan includes eight objectives: collaboration, cooperation and partnerships, funding, product development, promotion, marketing and communications, public policy and government support, research and technical assistance, resources and environment, and service excellence.

Each objective will have a dedicated committee of eight to 10 individuals working to identify particular goals and developing implementation plans for meeting those goals. Nicholls is serving as a coordinator of the committees, which will meet four to five times per year. The Pure Michigan plan spans 2012-2017, but was just unveiled this year as 2012 was used for development, which involved several stakeholders.

“This was a plan that was developed over the course of 2012, and it’s very much a comprehensive industry wide plan,” Nicholls said. “Most states, their tourism office has a marketing plan; this is one of only a few states across the country that has an industry-wide comprehensive plan that goes beyond the marketing to look at all the other areas and issues that are critical to tourism development.”

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