Outdoor recreation has been a staple of the Pure Michigan campaign that began more than a decade ago to promote the state as a travel destination.
Picturesque images of majestic sand dunes, sparkling beaches and trout streams, and of hiking, biking, fishing and other outdoor activities have been commonplace among the Pure Michigan ads that touted the state in markets across the country. They remain a large element of the campaign today, although the state agency responsible for promoting Michigan’s $4.2 billion tourism industry has made pivots in recent years and broadened the Pure Michigan campaign.
Travel Michigan, an arm of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., of late has put more emphasis on promoting urban destinations, particularly Detroit and Grand Rapids, and attractions in cities such as culinary experiences, craft breweries and distilleries, museums and art galleries, performing arts, and festivals.
Those urban flavors now mix with the outdoor recreation amenities that Pure Michigan largely focused on in its early years.
“We envisioned this as a challenge and goal way back when we were developing the Pure Michigan brand, that we have these tremendous natural resources,” said David Lorenz, vice president of Travel Michigan. “We need to use them as a lure to get people to do things and to be here, and even then to our in-state residents to get out and do things.
“It’s only been in recent years that we’ve put an emphasis on urban experiences as well. Initially, Pure Michigan was almost entirely nature-based and encouraged people to experience the outdoors. Then at some point, we started to realize we need to become a little more sophisticated and we needed to serve the entire state more than what we were, and because the state was changing in ways where we could start promoting places like Detroit. Then we started to mix the message and provide this more holistic outdoor and urban message.”
In making that change, Travel Michigan’s intent was not to de-emphasize outdoor recreation and destinations, but to promote the state’s urban centers as travel destinations, as well.
“We realized that there were areas we weren’t serving. Our job is to serve the entire state. We needed to present the true diversity that Michigan offers and that’s what we’ve been trying to do,” Lorenz said. “Now that our cities and many of our urban areas are really rebounding and providing these really great experiences, we’ve been able to focus on the urban experience. The shopping, the dining, the culture and the overall atmosphere — all of those things.”
Even with those changes in recent years, outdoors and recreation and promoting the state as a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and sportsmen will remain a lynchpin of Pure Michigan.
The 2018 Michigan Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan prepared for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources by Public Sector Consultants noted the role that outdoor recreation has in placemaking and in ensuring communities across the state are “desirable places to live and visit.”
The report also found that 29 percent of residents use Pure Michigan information or websites to plan their outdoor recreational activities. Along those lines, one of the plan’s recommendations for the DNR included strengthening the marketing of the state’s outdoor recreation resources through the Pure Michigan campaign.
As well, studies show the Pure Michigan message has proven effective in helping drive awareness around the outdoor recreation the state has to offer. An annual analysis of Pure Michigan’s effectiveness from 2018 found that the state’s “beautiful scenery,” its “excellent outdoor recreational activities,” its status as “great for boating, canoeing, kayaking, water sports,” and the “excellent fishing” were the four highest-rated aspects of the branding campaign in terms of ad awareness.
“Michigan is so nature-based,” Lorenz said. “We have something for everybody, unless you’re looking for saltwater or sharks.”
A separate analysis to gauge the return on investment of Pure Michigan credited the campaign with driving more than $935 million in spending on recreation by visitors in 2018.
The Pure Michigan campaign has been on hold since October after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer used the line-item veto to cut funding for the 2020 fiscal year. Pending legislation in Lansing seeks to restore the $37.5 million in funding.