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Economy & competitive position/Quality of life

Plan calls for Pure Michigan to be big, too

The widely praised Pure Michigan advertising campaign has been credited with resurrecting the state’s tourism industry, putting Michigan on the national travel map and giving Michigan residents something to crow about.

Now in its seventh year, Pure Michigan has even been called one of the best tourism promotion campaigns of all time.

What could managers of the campaign possibly do for an encore?

The short answer: Super-size Pure Michigan.

Michigan’s new five-year Tourism Strategic Plan calls for doubling state spending on Pure Michigan promotions (to $50 million) by 2017, expanding the campaign in Canada and making inroads in Europe and Asia.

“There is still a lot of room for growth with Pure Michigan. It’s not about improving the campaign, it’s about increasing awareness of the campaign,” said Sarah Nicholls, a tourism expert and associate professor at Michigan State University. She wrote the new strategic plan for the Michigan Tourism Commission.

The plan is a blueprint for how industry and state officials aim to bolster tourism over the next five years. It will be formally unveiled in mid-April, at Gov. Rick Snyder’s tourism conference in Detroit.

“We’ve got a good plan and if we follow it I think we’re going to have great success, even greater than we’re seeing now,” said Judy Zehnder Keller, vice chair of the Michigan Travel Commission and president of the Bavarian Inn Lodge in Frankenmuth. “I see great things happening — I’m very excited about the future of tourism in Michigan.”

Since its launch in 2006, the Pure Michigan campaign has generated 10.4 million trips to Michigan, $2.9 billion in new visitor spending and $208 million in state tax revenue.

Increased funding for Pure Michigan, expanding the advertising campaign and improving the promotion of Michigan as a four-season recreational haven would ultimately create jobs and generate more tax revenue, Zehnder Keller said.

“As more visitors come to Michigan, all of these companies (that serve tourists) will have to add more jobs to take care of the influx of people,” she said.

The Tourism Strategic plan called for promoting Michigan as “one of America’s favorite four seasons travel experiences.” Specific goals in the plan include:

* Increase state funding for Pure Michigan from the current $25 million amount to $50 million by 2017.

* Increasing visitor spending in Michigan 17 percent, to $21.5 billion, by 2017. Travelers spent $17.7 billion here in 2011.

$6.8 billion

Amount that out-of-state leisure travelers spent here in 2011.

$995 million

State tax revenue from tourism in 2011.

$25 million

Annual cost of Pure Michigan advertising campaign.

3.2 million

Out-of-state visitors attracted by Pure Michigan campaign in 2011.

$1 billion

New tourism revenue generated by Pure Michigan ad campaign in 2011.

* Increase the return on investment for each dollar spent on the Pure Michigan campaign from the 2011 level of $4.90 to $6 by 2017.

* Improve Michigan’s desirability as a place to visit (in Portrait of the American Traveler Report rankings) from 28th in 2010 to at least 15th by 2017.

* Launch Pure Michigan in Toronto and increase the number of Canadian tourists visiting Michigan by 40 percent, from 1.54 million in 2011 to 2.15 million by 2017.

* Create foreign language versions of the Pure Michigan/Travel Michigan Web site to attract international visitors, particularly from Germany, Portugal, Japan, China and Korea.

Develop national advertising campaigns for all four seasons, highlighting Michigan’s unique strengths.

Secure long-term funding for the Pure Michigan campaign. Snyder has pledged support for the program through 2014, but future funding is subject to the political whims of future state lawmakers and governors.

Michael O’Callahan, chief operating officer for the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Michigan’s abundance of water gives it an edge over many other states when it comes to promoting tourism.

But he said Michigan has its own challenges, like geography and fickle weather, which no amount of tourism spending could overcome.

“Michigan is a beautiful state and the Pure Michigan campaign has brought it to the attention to people in other parts of the country,” O’Callahan said. “But because Michigan’s a peninsula, not a drive-through state, you really have to want to come here to end up here.”

Jeff Alexander is owner of J. Alexander Communications LLC and the author of “Pandora’s Locks: The Opening of the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Seaway.” A former staff writer for the Muskegon Chronicle, Alexander writes a blog on the Great Lakes at

Complete coverage

$1 billion of economic impact? That’s Pure Michigan.

Plan calls for Pure Michigan to be big, too

Next frontier for state tourism – the world

3 comments from Bridge readers.Add mine!

  1. Suz McLaughlin

    The decision to make what was once THE best ‘put Michigan back on the map’ tool was totally misused to promote the so called Right-To-Work campaign and lost me as a supporter. This campaign should NEVER have been used as it was and I’m disgusted that the sensibilities behind this previous excellent media effort were corrupted so easily. How many others in Michigan feel the same?

  2. Nancy Shiffler

    If you are going to market Pure Michigan, make sure you take care of the product, so tourists have something to see when you get here. That means taking care of our lakes, streams, forests, lake shores, and parks — managing them for their natural values. That means funding and it means management practices that are allowed to use good scientific principles. There appear to be a few senators in the legislature who haven’t gotten the word — they want to elevate drilling, mining, and cutting to the highest priority and disallow appropriate ecosystem management; keep up that approach and the Pure Michigan campaign will end up getting sued for false advertising.

  3. Edward

    The Pure Michigan campaign has been a tremendous success, and I would love to see it grow per the opportunities referenced in the article. However, we who live here also need to stay focused on Michigan’s huge assets, and resist the temptation to sell ourselves short. Michael O’Callahan’s unfortunate comment in the article regarding Michigan’s “challenges, like geography and fickle weather…” is a perfect example of an all-too-common negative attitude that limits our success. ALL state and international destinations have attributes which locals and some visitors might consider challenges. So why mention them? Yes, our weather is an inconvenience sometimes for those who live here, and occasionally for visitors as well. But for many people from other places, those same negatives might be considered positives by visitors who are seeking a unique experience. For example, I personally hate tornado season. But in Oklahoma and other tornado alley states, people actually pay money to put themselves in harms way, so they can ride with storm chasers and see the amazing cloud formations! Michigan may not be perfect for those who live here, but we certainly are blessed with huge tourism assets compared to most other states. Promoting them will provide jobs in the hospitality industry, and will help grow other industries as well. If we all value and celebrate our blessings, our young people will be more likely to stay here, and some of the best and brightest who visit will relocate and live their lives here too. The Pure Michigan campaign has only scratched the surface of its potential, and its success-to-date is just the beginning!

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