Travel promoters in port communities along Lake Michigan are eagerly signing on to a pilot marketing campaign that the state plans to launch this summer to lure Indiana travelers to the beach.
Travel Michigan, the agency responsible for promoting Michigan’s $11 billion tourism industry, will match dollar-for-dollar the amount local travel bureaus earmark for a campaign designed specifically to target the Indianapolis market this year, up to $7,000 each. The partnership will enable both Travel Michigan and local tourism promoters to leverage their funds to promote a specific region of the state as a travel destination for out-of-state tourists.
The pilot program represents a distinct policy change for Travel Michigan, which traditionally has promoted the entire state as a travel destination and largely left it up to local visitors bureaus to market their individual communities. Partnering with visitors bureaus for a cooperative campaign targeted at a specific audience provides a new and better way for the state to spend its money, Travel Michigan Vice President George Zimmerman said.
“We’re hoping for any coupling of product that we can package in a reasonable way and consumers will respond to,” Zimmerman said. “It just makes sense. For us, that’s just good leverage.”
Travel Michigan will match local visitors bureaus’ commitments with up to $100,000 collectively for a print ad campaign this spring and summer in Indianapolis, a market where surveys have shown travelers want to spend their vacation at the beach but don’t view Michigan as an attractive option.
Five visitors bureaus — including Grand Haven, Holland and Muskegon — have so far signed up for the pilot program, and there’s “a few more we’re talking to,” Zimmerman said. Travel Michigan is seeking partners in shoreline communities stretching from Benton Harbor-St. Joseph all the way up to Mackinaw City.
Travel Michigan has a similar pilot planned for this summer with the Detroit Area Convention and Visitors Bureau to target the Cleveland market. In addition to the financial support, which includes up to $400,000 for the Detroit campaign, Travel Michigan will pick up the associated creative costs.
If the pilots appear to work, Zimmerman hopes to expand the initiative in subsequent years and enlist additional visitors bureaus for targeted campaigns aimed at additional markets. While the initiative coincides with tightening marketing budgets at both the local and state levels resulting from the recession, Zimmerman says he would have pushed the pilot programs regardless.
“It’s more than just dealing with the budget,” Zimmerman said. “We’re going to be better partners in doing this.”
To Laurel Nease, vice president of tourism development for the Grand Haven/Spring Lake Visitors Bureau, the new partnership makes perfect sense. The state undertook similar initiatives years ago but they fell by the wayside in the early 1990s because of budget cuts, Nease said.
“There was a lot of value with what we did back then,” Nease said.
With the economy in recession, and shoreline communities in a good position to lure travelers who are reluctant to embark on a long summer vacation but are willing to drive four or five hours to spend a few days at the beach, the Travel Michigan initiative comes at an opportune time, Nease said.
“Now’s the time to really advertise. We can’t slow down,” she said. “It’s important we got our message across — we’re close to home.”
By participating in the Travel Michigan pilot, travel bureaus in West Michigan are building on already established partnerships designed to promote the overall region. Having the state join the fold with a targeted campaign can only make the cooperative efforts more effective in drawing travelers to shoreline communities, said Joanne Hatch, tourism development manager for the Muskegon County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“If we work together, rather than compete with one another, we can attract more people here and they’re going to stay longer,” Hatch said. “We clearly understand the traveler doesn’t recognize geographic boundaries. They’re going to go where it’s fun and interesting and there’s lot of activities.”
Michigan’s tourism industry, meanwhile, faces a 2002 travel season filled with economic uncertainty following a 2001 that overall saw travel-spending slow considerably because of the economy. But travel bureaus in western Michigan communities report that they fared well comparatively because of their proximity to markets like Detroit and Chicago.
Business grew by only 1 percent last summer, down from the traditional 3 percent to 5 percent growth rates experienced annually since the mid-1980s, according to the Michigan Travel and Tourism Center at Michigan State University.
Zimmerman hopes the industry can at least match the 2001 revenue results.
“If we hold our own, we’ll be feeling pretty good. If we have even a slight increase, we’re going to feel great,” he said.