Michigan aims to take Pure Michigan campaign global

Now that the acclaimed Pure Michigan marketing campaign has boosted the state's tourism profile nationally, Michigan aims to take the brand global.
Or at least to test some ideas for luring more visitors from Europe and Asia.

And why not?

'With the number of flights into Detroit every day from Asia, and all the technical centers the auto industry has here, there's a ton of international business travel — and that should create leisure travel opportunities here, but we've never had good numbers on that,' said George Zimmermann, vice president of Travel Michigan.

Going global will be one of several key topics at the Pure Michigan Governor's Conference on Tourism 2012, Monday and Tuesday in Grand Rapids.

A new five-year plan for Michigan's tourism industry is on the agenda, along with a 2012 business forecast from Michigan State University and speeches by Gov. Rick Snyder and Joel Secundy, vice president of strategic outreach for Brand USA, the U.S. global tourism promotion agency.

Snyder, in a telephone interview from Europe while on a trade mission last week, said tourism came up when he was talking to business prospects in Italy.

'There's an opportunity there,' he said. 'Italians told us they travel a lot to the U.S., but most of them have only gone to the coasts, the East Coast and the West Coast.'

Pitching foreign visitors is the next logical step for Michigan's resurgent leisure travel industry, which posted its biggest ever one-year gain in tourism spending in 2010 — up 21% to $17.2 billion, up from $15.1 billion — after a three-year slump. Final 2011 figures aren't available yet.

The revival coincides with newfound stability in the Pure Michigan travel budget under Snyder. When the branding effort was launched in 2005, the state committed only $5.7 million to travel promotion, and the budget gyrated from year to year during appropriations battles in Lansing. Last year, Snyder proposed funding Pure Michigan at $25 million a year, and the Legislature has backed him two years in a row without any quibbling.

Last week, the state launched its 2012 national advertising campaign, a $12-million cable TV blitz that runs until June on more than 20 networks, including Animal Planet, CNN and the Weather Channel. Of that sum, $10 million comes from the state's appropriation and $2 million comes from four local groups, spending $500,000 each to promote Traverse City, Mackinac Island, the Henry Ford museum and Ann Arbor.

The ads can be viewed at www.michigan.org/Topics/Pure-Michigan-Ads/.

Until now, Michigan has spent only a pittance on promoting the state to foreign travelers — just $250,000, or 1% of its budget, to join a recent effort with neighboring states to tout the Great Lakes region in Europe.

The timing is good to expand that effort now, Zimmermann said, for several reasons:

• Michigan's travel industry has seen benefits from the Pure Michigan national ads and supports an international push.

• The new Brand USA initiative offers chances for the state to piggyback on a $200-million federal campaign that's matching private-sector contributions from companies including Walt Disney and Marriott. 'We don't have an office or representative in Japan, for example, and it wouldn't be cost-effective for us to set up our own from scratch. But maybe we can partner with Brand USA and share their rep,' said Zimmermann, who sits on the Brand USA advisory board.

• And finally, Michigan will soon have better data gathered from international travelers. The Wayne County Airport Authority, at the behest of travel Michigan and the Metro Detroit Convention and Visitors Bureau, recently started asking outbound travelers on international flights to fill out surveys on their travel interests.

None of this, of course, assures that Michigan will soon see a huge influx of foreign travelers. Competing for tourists with the Grand Canyon or Disney World or the Big Apple is different from facing off against Ohio or the Wisconsin Dells.

But hey, we won't know if we don't try.

Contact Tom Walsh: 313-223-4430 or [email protected]