George Zimmermann steps down this week as head of Travel Michigan, ending more than 12 years as the chief promoter for the state’s $15 billion tourism industry that’s identified with the “Pure Michigan” branding and promotional campaign.
Under Zimmermann’s leadership, Travel Michigan created the Pure Michigan promotion with ad firm McCann Erickson in 2006. The campaign has won numerous awards within the industry and is credited with bringing thousands of out-of-state travelers annually to Michigan — and with creating a general sense of unity within the state’s tourism sector.
“Looking back, we really went through a tough decade in the first decade of the 21st century. But there were some really good things that happened during that decade for tourism,” said the 61-year-old Zimmermann, who retires from Travel Michigan on April 25.
The decision to leave now as the industry in on an upswing was personal, Zimmermann said.
“I’ve worked 40 years. I seemed like enough,” he said. “Maybe it’s time to go do something else.”
When Zimmermann came to Michigan in October 2001, the agency spent just $5.7 million annually promoting the state as a vacation destination.
If Travel Michigan were to ever get more funding, it needed to boost business, and Zimmermann knew it had to prove its case. By 2004, Travel Michigan was contracting with the Toronto-based tourism research firm Longwoods International to collect and analyze data to determine the return on investment for promotional spending.
In 2006, on the strength of the ROI data, legislators raised Travel Michigan’s promotional budget to $13.2 million and have subsequently set the annual funding level at about $30 million.
With the increased funding that began eight years ago, the state needed a new campaign aimed at drawing more people to Michigan, Zimmermann said. The end result was Pure Michigan.
“With that new money, we knew we were going to go into new markets because we had a lot more funding, so we also knew we had to have a stronger message than we had,” he said. “It was that convergence of positive results, a strong brand, and industry support for all of it that led to where we are today.”
In 2013, visitors to Michigan spent an estimated $1.2 billion during their trips, generating $86.5 million in state tax revenue and a $6.66 return on investment for every dollar of the $13 million spent on buying ads to promote Michigan in 2013.
The 2013 data from Longwoods International indicates that a $4.3 million regional ad campaign in markets in the Great Lakes generated 2.4 million trips from visitors who spent $618.4 million and generated state tax revenue of $43.3 million. An $8.7 million national ad campaign generated 1.6 million trips, visitor spending of $618.7 million and another $43.3 million in state tax revenue, according to Longwoods International.
Since 2006, the state has spent $83.0 million on tourism promotion using the Pure Michigan brand, generating 18.3 million trips, $5.33 billion in new visitor spending, and $373.7 million in state tax revenue.