An ambitious five-year strategic plan for Michigan’s $17.7 billion tourism industry aims to draw far more travelers to the state and would 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, elevating Michigan’s status nationally as a vacation destination, and drawing 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.”
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.”
The plan “really does provide the groundwork necessary to help the industry continue to grow and prosper. Tourism is a critical component of the state’s economy, and this plan will further increase its long-term viability and success,” said Sarah Nicholls, an associate professor of tourism at Michigan State University who worked with the Michigan Travel Commission on the plan and wrote the final document.
Increased collaboration within the industry and between the public and private sectors, maintaining stable funding for promotion, strengthening the Pure Michigan brand, and fostering a “culture of service excellence” are among the industry’s goals between now and 2017.
Each of the goals and objectives outlined, though aggressive 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. Michigan.org 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.”
Travel Michigan received $25 million to promote the state as a travel destination this year. A $13 million 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.
A smaller $4 million regional campaign will follow and target key markets in the Midwest: Chicago, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, southern Ontario, and Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati, Ohio.
Travel Michigan then plans 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 Travel Michigan’s promotional funding to $29 million, which would enable the organization to target the Pure Michigan campaign to Toronto to lure visitors, step up marketing in Europe, and to start promoting the state in Asia and target travelers in Japan, South Korea and China.
Zimmerman believes Toronto represents a major market for eastern Michigan that can rival the Chicago market’s impact on the industry on the western side of the state.
From there, Travel Michigan could branch into Asia and further into 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 that 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.