Touting Tourism Best Option

April 22, 2008
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George Zimmerman grasps the generally accepted business philosophy that “you have to spend money to bring in money.”

As the vice president of Travel Michigan, Zimmerman has a vested interest in last week’s approval by the state Legislature of a package of bills that will make more money available to promote tourism and business. But he is correct in defending the importance of returning the agency’s marketing budget to at least its 2007 level before it was trimmed by state budget cuts.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm is expected to sign the important legislation that will provide an additional $60 million to marketing the state. Last week she appeared at the Driving Tourism 2008 conference in Grand Rapids, stressing the intent to put in place the most aggressive marketing campaign Michigan has ever pursued. What the travel industry advocates are really pursuing is money — hard-to-come-by tourist traffic spending that faces economic distractions like none seen in recent decades. But that’s just the point: They need to be convinced that spending their limited leisure money on activities and travel opportunities in Michigan is a good option.

Dr. Sarah Nicholls, assistant professor at Michigan State University’s Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies, presented an overview of some of the obstacles facing the tourism market during last week’s conference (see story, page 8).

The impact of tourism on this Great Lakes state is undeniable: Figures for Michigan in 2006 included:

  • Direct travel expenditures that reached $18.8 billion, an increase of 6.8 percent over 2005.

  • Direct expenditures on leisure travel that reached $13.3 billion, an increase of 10 percent over 2005 (71 percent direct expenditures).

  • 109.2 million person trips taken in Michigan — 78 percent leisure-related and 41 percent overnight.

Nationally, the numbers are just as staggering:

  • Travel and tourism supported 8.3 million American jobs in 2006, of which 1.1 million were supported by travel and tourism exports.

  • More people are employed by travel and tourism-related industries than are employed in the construction industry, the business and financial sector, agriculture, education or health care.

The MSU projections note the nation as a whole is expected to grow its travel and tourism demand between 2008 and 2018. Part of the rise will be caused by the increased attractiveness the U.S. presents to international travelers, thanks to the weakening dollar.

Pure Michigan, a two-year-old advertising campaign, aims to bring a portion of those travelers to the state. The campaign was established by Travel Michigan, the state’s official agency for the promotion of tourism.

In light of interest in travel here from out-of-state clientele, the campaign targeted five cities outside the state — Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Chicago, Indianapolis and Cleveland — and Ontario, Canada. The campaign saw a very favorable response in the markets of Chicago, Indianapolis and Cleveland.

Those figures will only be enhanced by wise investment in marketing and promotion efforts.

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