State tourism spending on the rise

TRAVERSE CITY – Business grew for Michigan’s tourism industry for a third consecutive year in 2012, with help from the weather, good publicity and the “Pure Michigan” advertising campaign aimed at luring visitors from other states, researchers said.

Michigan State University experts Sarah Nicholls and Dan McCole released their annual tourism forecast Tuesday during an industry conference in Detroit and said the trend should continue. They said tourist spending should rise 5.5 percent in 2013 after a 6 percent increase last year.

They also said the number of tourists traveling to and around the state will rise about 3 percent.

Although the economy remains sluggish, Nicholls and McCole said people who travel the most are doing well and continue to make vacations a priority.

Their analysis indicates that Michigan’s reputation for producing high-quality local foods, wines and beer is helping at a time when travelers are increasingly interested in food- and beverage-based tourism.

The hotel sector had its highest occupancy rates since 2000 and visits to high-profile attractions such as national parks jumped, she said.

“We can attribute these positive outcomes in 2012 to a combination of factors, including the warm, dry summer and fall, a continued rebound in consumer confidence, relatively steady gas prices and the continuing influence” of the Pure Michigan initiative, Nicholls said.

In Marquette County, tourism has improved steadily for years, according to Alison Silk, public relations and marketing director for the Marquette County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“Our tourism has been increasing pretty much since 2008,” she said. “Everything is looking really great for summer.”

The CVB looks at the number of nights booked in local motels and hotels. Silk said year on year, that number has increased in nearly every month during the last five years.

While the county may be benefitting from the “Pure Michigan” campaign, Silk said the CVB focuses heavily on advertising Marquette County in large markets.

“We have been taking part in some really big national campaigns,” she said. “We do full page ads in MLB and NFL yearbooks. We do some NBA advertising. We do a lot in the bigger markets.”

Silk, who attended Tuesday’s industry conference, said she expects Marquette County tourism to see a similar uptick to that predicted for the state.

Nicholls, an associate professor in MSU’s Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies, said the state experienced a ripple effect from glowing reports in national publications and broadcasts. Among them: ABC’s “Good Morning America” program’s designation of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore “the most beautiful place in America.”

Visits to the lakeshore rose 14 percent in 2012, she said. Another popular site, the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, drew 1.9 million visitors – a 25 percent increase.

Nicholls and McCole also credited the Pure Michigan campaign, now entering its eighth year, which they described as one of the nation’s top tourism marketing programs. It features video footage of Great Lakes shorelines, trails and other scenic vistas.

Travel Michigan, the state tourism agency, released a consultant’s report at the conference that said the campaign drew 3.8 million visitors to the state last year, who spent about $1.1 billion. Michigan took in $5.76 in taxes for every dollar spent on the campaign, it said.

The agency is still calculating the number of all out-of-state residents who visited Michigan in 2012 and won’t have a total until June, spokeswoman Michelle Begnoche said. The total in 2011 was nearly 101 million.

If the 2012 total was similar, it would suggest only a small percentage of visitors came to Michigan specifically because of the campaign. But many others probably were influenced by the ads to some extent, Begnoche said.

The report was produced by Longwoods International, which researches tourism advertising. Senior Vice President Tom Curtis, who oversaw the study, said it was based on an online survey that asked people if they had seen the Michigan ads and plugged the results into a formula the agency uses to determine what factors motivate travel decisions. It distinguishes between people who were attracted specifically by the commercials and those who would have come to Michigan anyway, he said.

Not all the news was positive. The report said visitors from other Great Lakes states paid $8.06 in taxes for every dollar the state spent on ads targeting the region – a decrease from $9.85 in 2011.

George Zimmermann, vice president of Travel Michigan, said it wasn’t clear what caused the regional drop-off in return on investment and said it could have been a fluke, since the nationwide return had risen.

“If it becomes a pronounced trend over a long period of time, we’ll probably spend more time researching it,” he said.

Since the campaign began in 2006, the average number has been $4.10 for every tax dollar spent, the report said.

Gov. Rick Snyder, whose budget for the 2014 fiscal year proposes boosting spending on Pure Michigan from $25 million to $29 million, said the analysis illustrates its “vast potential” as officials plan to expand the campaign overseas.

Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.