Ad campaign draws out-of-state travelers to Michigan

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — The Pure Michigan marketing campaign is drawing waves of first-time travelers from outside the state and will be increasingly crucial as the industry seeks to expand, leaders said Monday.
Representatives of tourism-related business, consultants and government officials were kicking off development of a five-year strategy for building on the successful blitz, which features commercials on cable television putting Michigan's waterways and other eye-catching vistas on display.

"It's incredibly effective in bringing in the newcomers," Steve Yencich, president of the Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association, said during the Pure Michigan Governor's Conference on Tourism 2012 in Grand Rapids. "Every visit results in new jobs, new tax revenues, a stronger economy."

Statistics released at the conference said the publicity campaign drew 3.2 million visitors and generated $1 billion in spending last year. Those travelers paid $70 million in Michigan taxes, meaning the state received $4.90 for each dollar invested in Pure Michigan ads, according to a study by Longwoods International, a tourism research company.

The program is "delivering impressive results for our state," Gov. Rick Snyder said.

In-state residents historically have been the backbone of Michigan's tourism industry, but they're no longer enough, said Dan McCole, assistant professor of tourism at Michigan State University.

"We've got a shrinking population and fewer high-paying jobs than we've had in the past," McCole said.

The latest Pure Michigan ad series got under way last week. The campaign will place commercials promoting Michigan as a warm-weather vacation haven on more than two dozen cable channels including A&E, Animal Planet, Lifetime and news networks.

The state kicked in $10 million for the blitz and private sector groups added a combined $2 million to showcase Ann Arbor, Mackinac Island, the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn and Traverse City.

Officials also announced a "co-branding" deal with Coca-Cola, which agreed to feature images of Michigan scenery alongside the company logo on its billboards, delivery trucks, vending machines and signs across the state. The company also will sponsor a contest for trips to Mackinac Island, Detroit, Traverse City and the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

Long-term success will depend not only on persuading long-distance travelers to give Michigan a try, but also on making them happy enough to return, Yencich said.

"It's incumbent on us to have people highly trained and motivated to deliver that great experience, so when they go home they'll want to come back and tell their family and friends," he said.

Tourism spending in Michigan totaled $17.2 billion in 2010, a 21 percent increase over the previous year. McCole was scheduled to announce statistics for 2011 Tuesday.

Yencich said he expected the numbers to show another increase and that spending should rise again this year. Higher gas prices might put a damper on short weekend trips but are unlikely to disrupt major travel plans, he said.

"I don't think there's a spouse in the country that will look across the table and say, 'Honey, we're canceling our vacation because gas prices are $4.50 a gallon,'" Yencich said.