Next step: Taking Pure Michigan to international markets

Posted on March 4, 2013

An ambitious five-year strategic plan for Michigan’s tourism industry aims to draw far more travelers to the state, boost the economic impact by nearly 20 percent and begin to take the “Pure Michigan” brand around the world.

Among the key objectives outlined in the strategic plan are growing visitor spending in Michigan by nearly 20 percent to $21.1 billion by 2017, up from $17.7 billion in 2011. Doing so would elevate Michigan’s status nationally as a vacation destination and would draw more foreign visitors to the state, especially from neighboring Canada.

The strategic plan seeks to build on the success of the Pure Michigan branding campaign that debuted in 2006 regionally in the Midwest and went national three years ago.

“It just continues to raise the profile of the industry and the importance of the industry to Michigan’s economy,” said George Zimmermann, the vice president of Travel Michigan. “We no longer view ourselves as just a regional destination. We can be a great U.S. destination, and we can be a great destination for foreign visitors.”

Foreign visitors tend to stay longer and spend more money while traveling in the U.S., Zimmermann said.

The Michigan Travel Commission adopted the strategic plan in mid-February. It outlines a series of goals and objectives for the industry and envisions making Michigan “one of America’s favorite four seasons travel experiences.”

Increased collaboration within the industry and between the public and private sectors, maintaining stable funding for promotions, strengthening the Pure Michigan brand and fostering a “culture of service excellence” are among the industry’s broad goals between now and 2017.

Each of the goals and objectives outlined, while ambitious in nature, is achievable given the gains made in the first six years of the Pure Michigan brand, said Sally Laukitis, a state travel commissioner and executive director of the Holland Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Travel Michigan’s website was the most visited tourism site in the U.S. in 2012 for the sixth straight year, according to Experian Hitwise, a company that measures web use. registered more than 8.8 million visits last year, about 1 million more than second-ranked Florida.

The Pure Michigan brand has not only boosted travel to Michigan but united the industry, Laukitis said.

“There’s a great momentum out there right now,” Laukitis said. “We finally have an identifiable brand and we all want to be tied to it.”

Travel Michigan received $25 million to promote the state as a travel destination this year. A $13 million 2013 national spring and summer campaign, the largest ever, launches March 18 on more than 35 cable television networks and will feature 5,000 ads that will run through June. The spring and summer campaign includes $3 million that came from five private-sector partners — Grand Rapids, Mackinac Island, The Henry Ford, Traverse City and Ann Arbor — for customized ads, Zimmermann said.

Data show that in 2009, the year after Pure Michigan went national, spending by out-of-state travelers began to outpace spending by Michigan residents traveling within the state, Zimmermann said. In 2011, the most recent year for which data are available, spending by out-of-state leisure travelers grew 7.5 percent to $6.8 billion, versus $6.3 billion by in-state travelers, which was up 0.8 percent from 2010.

Zimmermann expects the gap to widen further as the Pure Michigan campaign lures more out-of-state travelers.

“That’s basically our future,” he said. “I predict that will never reverse.”

Data on 2012 spending and travel volumes will come out in April during the annual Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Detroit.

Travel Michigan also plans a smaller $4 million regional spring and summer campaign targeting key markets in the Midwest, including Chicago, Indianapolis, Milwaukee and southern Ontario and Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati, Ohio.

The agency, an arm of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., then intends to mount a $1.7 million regional campaign later in the year to promote fall travel in Michigan.

Gov. Rick Snyder, in his budget proposal for the 2014 fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, recommended increasing Pure Michigan’s funding to $29 million. The additional $4 million would enable the organization to target the Pure Michigan campaign to Toronto, step up marketing in Europe and to start promoting the state in Asia by targeting travelers in Japan, South Korea and China.

Zimmermann believes Toronto represents a major market for eastern Michigan that could even rival the Chicago market’s impact on the industry on the western side of the state.
“Toronto is another Chicago,” Zimmermann said.

From there, Travel Michigan could use the funding increase to branch into Asia and Europe, where Michigan now partners with travel agencies in neighboring states to promote the Great Lakes to prospective travelers in the United Kingdom and Germany, Zimmermann said.

The five-state Great Lakes USA collaborative spends about $500,000 annually to bring European travel writers to the region, hoping they’ll write about Great Lakes travel for readers back home. The money also goes to assure British and German travel agents include the Great Lakes in the travel packages they pitch to customers who want to visit the U.S., Zimmermann said.

After taking Pure Michigan nationwide in 2010, Travel Michigan sees expanding the brand internationally as the next logical step, he said.

“That obvious question is ‘what’s next?’ We’ve gone from regional to national. What other markets are there?” Zimmermann said. “The obvious answer is international.”

In addition to the $17.7 billion economic impact from visitor spending, the tourism industry in Michigan supports more than 200,000 jobs and generates $995 million in annual tax revenues for the state.

Mark Sanchez, MiBiz.