Fresh off last month’s 2016 Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism, new reports from Michigan State University and Longwoods International show a significant return on investment for the state’s tourism industry. Travel Michigan, the state-run tourism marketing division, says the long-running Pure Michigan campaign is working, despite criticisms from some organizations. Dave Lorenz, the agency’s vice president, spoke with MiBiz about the role of tourism in Michigan and how Travel Michigan needs to react to issues in Flint and Detroit.
What were your takeaways from last month’s Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism?
Generally speaking, when it comes to the tourism conference and the bright spots for the industry right now, basically all of the numbers are looking very, very good. It’s striking to see what is happening.
What does that say about the state of Michigan’s tourism industry?
All of that is a very good sign for us that not only did we get the activity that it seemed like we were going to get this last year, but it looks like we’ve started out with a very positive run already this year, even with a weak winter, which is a bad thing for the tourism industry.
People don’t understand: We want snow. It’s good for Michigan. We don’t want it during the first national broadcast of the Tigers game (laughs), but other than that, it’s all good.
What are the particular bright spots for Michigan’s tourism industry?
The Longwoods study shows that our ROI has grown to $7.67 for every dollar that we’ve invested. Those are all great indicators for a thriving industry, one that’s growing by leaps and bounds, and one that we believe still has tremendous growth opportunity. The thing about the travel industry is that it’s one of the few industries that you can market to an audience and get almost instantaneous return on it and response.
What do you mean that it’s instantaneous?
The thing with travel marketing is, if you have a compelling message and you present it in an impactful and compelling way, you can inspire people and encourage them to travel. They’re always looking for new and different places to travel. They just need to be reminded, made aware of it and they need to see the proof.
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy has been critical of the Pure Michigan program and called into question the metrics cited in the campaign’s success. How do you respond to that?
They have a partisan position. I respect people’s opinions, but we use facts. There are opinions, there’s dogma and there are facts and proven research and results. I have no response to them directly because they have a certain dogma that they want to present. It’s just what these organizations do. They’re paid to be critics. That’s how they make their money. That’s how they make their living.
What do you hear as you travel the state talking to those impacted directly by the industry?
If you really want to get an indication and the impact of the campaign, talk to the industry — the people who talk one on one with the customers who come in from all over the country and all over the world. Talk to them, and ask them if they feel that Pure Michigan has had this tremendous impact. I can already tell you what they’re going to say, because I hear it every day.
Has the Pure Michigan campaign reached the point of saturation yet?
Even after 10 years, there’s still a huge audience out there who has not been impacted by the Pure Michigan campaign. … The great news is that there’s greater awareness and appreciation of Michigan. For people who do see the advertising, they have a much more positive perception about Michigan, but we have still many people in the country who’ve not seen our ads, who’ve not been impacted by our marketing.
What impact have the Flint water crisis and the Detroit Public Schools budget situation had on the message Pure Michigan wants to send?
(T)hey’re major and important issues. I don’t want anyone to think I’m dismissing them, because I’m not. In fact, because of this strong campaign, we’re driving people into this state, they’re spending money, they’re paying sales taxes. Those revenues that are generated because of the Pure Michigan campaign — those revenues are being used to help in those areas.
How do you communicate about those issues?
We’re no different than any other state in the country. We’re no different than any other country in the world. Everybody has issues, no place is perfect. And everybody knows that.