Michigan's tourism promotion goes national

October 6, 2008
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LANSING — People nationwide will see Michigan’s woodlands and coastlines next year, without having to travel farther than their TV sets.

That’s because the state’s Pure Michigan Campaign will unleash a barrage of promotion nationwide next spring, including cable TV ads in all 50 states, thanks to an increase in state funding for tourism promotion. Members of Michigan’s tourism industry say that marketing the state nationally will help boost its slumping economy.

The state will spend $30 million on the campaign in the 2008-09 fiscal year, up 71 percent from $17.5 million this year.

Tourism, Michigan’s third-largest industry behind manufacturing and agriculture, hasn’t received the same level of state support as the other two, said Steven Yencich, president and chief executive officer of the Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association.

“We don’t have a product problem, we have a promotion problem,” said Brad Van Dommelen, president of the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It’s just a significant product knowledge gap that’s out there than can only be addressed through more aggressive marketing and building the brand of our state.”

According to a state study, for every dollar spent on tourism promotion, Michigan received a return of two to three dollars in revenues, often with the same year, said George Zimmermann, vice president of Travel Michigan, the state’s official tourism promotion agency.

This means that a $30 million investment would yield between $60 million and $90 million in new sales tax revenues.

Mike McGuire, general manager of McGuire’s Resort in Cadillac, said the state’s economic troubles have made people less likely to spend their time and money on vacation.

“Obviously, we have some (economic) factors that are working against us,” he said. “That added exposure is going to help Michigan tremendously.”

Michigan has had the lowest hotel occupancy in the nation since 2005, Yencich said.

“To a large measure that’s because we’ve been forced to become overly reliant on Michigan residents for tourism outcomes,” he said.

Typically 70 percent of the state’s tourism industry comes from its residents, he added.

Sen. Jason Allen, R-Traverse City, has proposed permanently taking a portion of the state’s unallocated sales tax revenues for the Pure Michigan Campaign, but his bill has languished in committee since August 2007. The state currently appropriates funding for tourism advertising from general tax dollars.

About 200 people, including representatives of the tourism industry, recently lobbied at the Capitol during a Senate committee hearing to support the bill.

“The importance of permanent funding for Pure Michigan is the best means to jump-start our state’s economy, and we know if you market tourism in March and April, tourists will come in June and July and the months that follow,” Yencich said. “And with those new tourists, come jobs and new tax revenues for the state, both of which are sorely needed.”

While the ads have been effective in bringing people to Northern Michigan, Wayne County benefits, too, as the No. 1 tourist destination in the state, Allen said.

“The Pure Michigan ads have been very effective in bringing families and individuals to our state,” he said. “These ads helped cushion the down economy.”

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