Lawmakers look for way to afford Pure Michigan tourism ad campaign

Casey Jourden says the Pure Michigan TV ads -- those dreamy, 30-second promos of vacation splendor -- boosted business at least 10% at her new campground near Muskegon last year, even drawing travelers from the East and West coasts. "A lot of people have seen the advertisements who maybe wouldn't have even considered a trip to Michigan," said Jourden, who, with her husband, owns Duck Creek RV Resort.
But another state deficit has the Pure Michigan campaign on the chopping block in Lansing. Under a Senate-passed bill, $15 million would be spent on the campaign this year, half of the $30 million spent last year for nationwide exposure.

The campaign needs more, said Rep. Joel Sheltrown, D-West Branch, chairman of the House tourism committee. He'll hold a hearing today on Pure Michigan funding.

"In my area, and all of northern Michigan, there's a huge cry to fund this program," Sheltrown said.

Tourism ads' payoff debated

"It's a basic business principle. In hard times, the last thing you should cut is your advertising budget," said Sheltrown. "What are we doing cutting our tourism funding?"

With $5.5 million still left in "Pure Michigan's" fund, the Senate plan would spend half of last year's $30-million budget for the ads, in which actor Tim Allen narrates gorgeous scenes of golf, lakes and forests.

"Pure Michigan" has become a flashpoint over how to spend precious state money. Supporters, led by the tourism industry, say it's money well spent.

A state-sponsored study concludes the ads lured 2 million visitors from outside of Michigan. Sen. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi, said she isn't convinced. She questioned the study and led an effort to scale back funding in her Senate Finance Committee.

The study was conducted by Longwoods International, a Toronto-based advertising research firm whose clients include Procter and Gamble, General Motors, Whirlpool and the Canadian and U.S. postal services. Longwoods founder William Siegel is to testify today before Sheltrown's House Committee on Tourism and Outdoor Recreation. Siegel said for every dollar the state spent airing "Pure Michigan" ads in surrounding states, Michigan received $5 in tax revenue; for more distant states, the return was nearly $3 for every $1 spent.

Siegel said Monday he's done advertising research for 30 years, and he called the "Pure Michigan" campaign "terrific, it seems to hit emotional levers that a lot of advertising doesn't do. And it's paying off."

Casey Jourden thinks so, too. She and her husband opened Duck Creek RV Resort near Muskegon last May, and they found that "Pure Michigan" lured campers from South Dakota, Oregon and Washington state. This year, campers from Maryland and other East Coast areas reserved spots.

"We got far more people from 'Pure Michigan' than we got from RV shows and local tourism guides," Jourden said.

Cassis acknowledged such testimonials, but said the state faces a projected $1.5-billion deficit. She said the "Pure Michigan" campaign has spent too much on administrative costs.

"It is wise to promote Michigan, but we have to do it in a prudent way," Cassis said.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm has called for spending an additional $13 million on the ads, to be paid for by a $2.50-per-day fee on rental cars leased at airports and hotels near airports. A Granholm spokesperson said the Senate plan for $9.5 million doesn't identify a source for the money.

The rental car fee was approved by Sheltrown's House tourism committee last year, but not by the full House.

Steve Yencich, president and CEO of the Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association, said the state must boost "Pure Michigan," and quickly.

"For people south of Tennessee, things are starting to warm up, and they're already starting to think about summer vacations," Yencich said.