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Wednesday, 12 August 2015 17:23

Q&A: David Lorenz, Travel Michigan

Written by  Nick Manes
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David Lorenz David Lorenz

David Lorenz has stepped into the role as chief promoter of Michigan’s $22.8 billion tourism industry during the height of the busy summer travel season. Lorenz was named vice president of Travel Michigan, a unit of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., in mid-July after 13 years with the agency, most recently as industry relations and international marketing manager. He’s played a key role in implementing and managing the Pure Michigan campaign that turns 10 years old next year. A Norton Shores resident, Lorenz spoke with MiBiz about the state of the industry and Pure Michigan marketing.

How do you assess the state of the tourism industry in Michigan?

So far, so good. The state of the industry is seemingly strong and getting stronger.

Why is that?

We have had Pure Michigan working for us and working on behalf of the industry now for nearly 10 years. We continue to work on that to make sure we are presenting the state for all that it is and in the best light that we can show it to encourage people to travel here and have a great time. I think the industry is getting stronger, partially because of Pure Michigan and the strength of Pure Michigan has really emboldened the industry to get better. So at the state level, we kind of help build the environment for success, but at the local level, the convention and visitors bureaus have taken the call and felt the urge to champion that brand.

What indicators are you tracking that tell you tourism is moving in the right direction?

If you look at the stats, occupancy is up, hotel revenue is up — same thing with the website flow — and that’s just an indicator of what’s happening in the industry. I anticipate that’s going to continue for the rest of the year and for the foreseeable future.

What’s the biggest opportunity for the industry right now?

The biggest travel story in the country … is the comeback story of Detroit. One absolute that I’ve told everybody is that I believe — and have believed for some time — we need to be more proactive in telling the story of the comeback of Detroit, not necessarily because of what that means for Detroit, but really it’s much bigger than that. It’s part of the overall Michigan message that the lights are on and it’s bright here. You can make a life here and visit here and live and grow here along with us.

Pure Michigan’s coming up on its tenth anniversary. How do you keep the campaign fresh and prevent it from getting stale?

All the brand is is an understanding of what the state means to people. People say, ‘Gee, can Pure Michigan live on?’ The real answer is ‘of course,’ because the state lives on, but we change over time. As a product, the state changes over time. It’s getting better in so many ways, so we need to make sure to keep communicating that. The way we present it is evolving as well, and you’re going to start to notice some slight changes in the way we present our story.

Who do you need to target with the campaign?

We still need to get to our core audience of those 55-plus in age — the people with money and time to travel. But as our audience gets younger and the potential travelers that we want to target are also those Gen Xers and those younger generations, we need to change to some degree the approach we take to present what Michigan is.

How do you do that?

Without getting too much into the weeds, you’re going to notice a slightly different approach to the way we present it with advertising. We’ll still be doing it with respect to the way we presented it in the past.

We see the Pure Michigan label put on a lot of things today. Can you have too much of a good thing and oversaturate the market with the brand?

Yes, you can. I’ve been concerned about that actually for a long time. Everybody wants to be part of a good thing. … It can be damaging and you can also get to the point where if that’s all people see, it doesn’t have the impact that it could when they see it appropriately.

In that case, how do you ensure that you protect the brand?

We’ve tried to encourage people to help us with what we call extending the brand. We’ve tried to tie in with partner entities out there that are of common cause and goodwill and with partners within the travel industry to use the Pure Michigan branding as part of their effort whenever it’s appropriate.

We’ve also reached out to other companies like Coca-Cola and Absopure that have wanted to co-brand with us. Co-branding or collaborative marketing makes sense as long as you’re partnering with other good brands that have a positive perception. So we’ll continue to do that, but we do want to be cautious to make sure we’re not throwing the label or the brand all over the place where it doesn’t make sense or it confuses the understanding of what Pure Michigan is.

What does the industry need to do to maintain its momentum in the next few years?

We need to continue to work on education and training. That’s one of the things that we’ll be doing that we have not really played a major role in in the past. One of the things that I’m very strong on is continuing education, both of our staff and the industry in general.

What’s an example of that?

We’ll be putting together and working with organizations like the lodging and tourism association on what’s called receptive training for hoteliers. This is something that is really core to our mission that we just have not had the time or expertise to handle in the past. We’re going to bring in the appropriate people, in this case, to help hoteliers to work with the international traveler and travel and operator community.

Interview conducted and condensed by Mark Sanchez. Courtesy photo.

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