HOLLAND — Last year, travelers from all 50 states and 47 countries stopped into the Holland Area Visitors Bureau while visiting the city.
This kind of year-round tourism fuels economic development in the city of Holland and the greater West Michigan region as people eat at restaurants, shop at stores, stay at hotels and enjoy other attractions in the city, said Holland Area Visitors Bureau Director Sally Laukitis.
But the ability of Holland and other communities to market themselves nationally and internationally has come under threat, as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration eliminated $37 million in funding for the Pure Michigan campaign under a line-item veto for the 2020 fiscal year budget.
The Pure Michigan campaign will continue through the end of this year and afterward using leftover funding from last fiscal year, a move the Michigan Strategic Fund approved on Oct. 22. The state will pay $667,500 to McCann, the New York-based public relations firm behind the campaign, in “work project funds” for travel and marketing ad services through the end of the year.
The MSF board also approved New York-based firm Weber Shandwick for $73,100 to finish ongoing public relations and social media projects before transitioning those efforts to staff at the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC).
“With the help of our tourism partners statewide, we will leverage our ever-growing social media community of 2.5 million to continue to share the story of our great state and all that it affords as a four-season destination,” Otie McKinley, media and communications manager for the MEDC, said in an email to MiBiz.
With legislators at loggerheads over a potential supplemental state budget as of press time, future Pure Michigan funding remains in limbo, which is causing concern for local tourism and economic development organizations.
“To see (the Pure Michigan campaign) go away would be devastating, because the partnering opportunities will go away,” Laukitis said. “The entire economy, in my opinion, will feel the effects of the Pure Michigan brand going away.”
The Pure Michigan ad campaign launched in 2006 to support tourism and economic development in the state. Its campaigns, voiced by Tim Allen, have become some of the most recognizable in the country.
The Holland Area Visitors Bureau, like other local tourism organizations statewide, partners with Pure Michigan on global marketing initiatives. The Holland group uses Pure Michigan branding in all of its advertising, whether on billboards, in print or on social networks like Facebook.
“We use it in everything because it is the most widely-recognized state tourism marketing brand in the country,” Laukitis said.
Without Pure Michigan, the Holland Area Visitors Bureau would have to stand on its own when it comes to marketing the city as a tourist destination. The bureau participates in a dollar-for-dollar match program with the state each year that allows it to double its marketing budget, which in turn shows Pure Michigan and Holland to potential visitors around the world.
“It doesn’t make sense for us as a standalone to market to China,” Laukitis said. “If we market to China in a dollar-for-dollar match program with Pure Michigan, with other partners who are marketing to China, that makes a whole lot more sense.”
Experience Grand Rapids, the convention and visitors bureau for Grand Rapids and Kent County, invests more than $1 million annually in the dollar-for-dollar match program with Pure Michigan.
Losing that match would mean Experience Grand Rapids would need to come up with the funding to maintain its marketing efforts, President and CEO Doug Small said during a Grand Rapids-Kent County Convention/Arena Authority meeting in October.
“Gov. Whitmer’s decision to veto Pure Michigan funding in the 2020 state budget is troubling and, if it stands, will certainly be harmful to our state economy, as well as to thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of residents employed in the tourism industry,” Small said in a statement to MiBiz.
No other industry promotes Michigan this way, Small added.
Laukitis pointed to a Colorado example regarding the effects on the state’s economy of decreasing promotional funding. In 1993, Colorado eliminated its tourism marketing function when it cut its $12 million promotion budget to zero. Columbus, Ohio-based Longwoods International, a market research consultancy for the tourism and travel industry, found that Colorado’s domestic market share plunged 30 percent within two years, representing a loss of more than $1.4 billion in tourism revenue annually.
What happens if Pure Michigan is cut remains a “huge question mark” for Laukitis, especially as she and her team begin budgeting for the next calendar year. The only absolute is that the Holland Area Visitors Bureau would need to cut back on its international marketing efforts.
However, the effects of the cuts on the broader Michigan economy are proving more worrisome, Laukitis said. The visitors bureau is dependent on a 5-percent hotel room assessment, meaning its survival is tied to transient visitors to the area.
“The huge impact that the Pure Michigan campaign has from an ROI standpoint, if that goes away, I truly fear for what will happen to our visitation here, which affects our restaurants, our shopping, our attractions — all of the above,” Laukitis said.