Winter campaign reflects tourism spending boost

The launch of a $7.4 million winter campaign represents the first major initiative for Travel Michigan since legislators gave a significant, one-time boost to promoting the state as a travel destination.
Amid a difficult economy, Travel Michigan has a tough task ahead and will need to find a way to generate quick results, even though good marketing requires a prolonged attack to build brand awareness and drive consumer decisions.

The additional funding was only appropriated for the current and previous fiscal years, giving Travel Michigan and the state's $18.1 billion tourism industry a small window to prove its case for a permanent funding source.

"We have a very big job to do in a very quick amount of time," said Dave Lorenz, manager of industry relations for Travel Michigan, an arm of the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

"We need to give it all we can right away to take advantage of the situation," Lorenz said. "It's all about maximizing whatever assets you have."

That push started last week when Travel Michigan, for the first time in more than 15 years, launched its winter-travel campaign, designed to lure tourists to the state during the cold-weather months, particularly for skiing and snowmobiling.

The radio and TV spots, as well as outdoor ads, also are the first ever for Travel Michigan's award-winning Pure Michigan campaign. The broadcast ads feature the familiar voice of actor and Michigan native Tim Allen.

The campaign, developed by the Birmingham office of McCann Erickson, is targeted at Chicago and other nearby markets: Green Bay, Wis.; Toledo, Ohio; South Bend and Fort Wayne, Ind.; and southern Ontario.

The markets targeted are areas "where we have the best chances for success in drawing people" to Michigan during the winter, Lorenz said.

Funding for the winter campaign comes from legislative approval last spring of $45 million over two fiscal years to better promote Michigan as a travel destination.

Travel Michigan for years had worked with a promotional budget of just $5.2 million annually, an amount that pales in comparison to many Great Lakes states' budgets.

Though the added appropriation came late in the media-buying window, Travel Michigan was able to incorporate some of the funding for its warm-weather promotion last summer.

In the new fiscal year that started Oct. 1, the agency has a $30 million promotional budget -- all of it coming from the one-time appropriation and with nothing budgeted beyond this year.

Come spring, Travel Michigan plans to mount a national cable-TV campaign, touting Michigan as a summer vacation spot, and target additional markets. Details on the summer 2009 campaign have not been finalized, though Travel Michigan Media
Relation Manager Kirsten Bergstrom anticipates something "quite similar" to 2008.

Using the additional funding, Travel Michigan in 2008 "enhanced" the Pure Michigan campaign in Chicago, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo, Ft. Wayne, South Bend, Green Bay and Ontario, and expanded it for the first time to Columbus and Dayton, Ohio; and St. Louis, Mo.

Legislators and Gov. Jennifer Granholm appropriated the one-time funding based on data showing tourism promotion creates a sizable return on investment for both the industry and state government.

Research data produced by Toronto-based Longwoods International for Travel Michigan shows that during 2004-2007, every $1 spent on tourism promotion generated $40.29 in spending at Michigan businesses and $2.82 for the state in tax revenue.

Travel Michigan hopes to maintain that kind of ROI as it builds a business case for a permanent funding source that will generate $30 million annually for tourism promotion.

"Success will be staying right around that and building our efficiency," said Lorenz, though any long-term impact from expanding Pure Michigan to new markets may prove difficult unless additional funding is provided.

"Very seldom can you build that type of efficiency in a first-time campaign," Lorenz said. "But that is certainly our goal. Whether it's realistic or not, you have to go for the gold."