Travel Michigan has budgeted $500,000 in matching funds for the fiscal year that began last week for targeted marketing programs undertaken with local partnerships. The agency spent about $207,000 on three pilot projects this past summer, working with visitor bureaus in Detroit, Mackinac Island and along the Lake Michigan shoreline that matched the state’s contribution.
With the state budget a mess and resources limited, marketing partnerships that leverage existing funding levels are a natural way to go to promote Michigan destinations to travelers, Travel Michigan Director George Zimmerman said. He sees “no hope” in receiving any funding increase in the foreseeable future to promote tourism in Michigan, an industry that has an estimated $11.5 billion annual economic impact, employs 163,000 people and generates $660 million a year in state and local tax revenues.
“We’re going to have to be leaner and meaner,” Zimmerman said. “We’ve got to figure out how to spend what we have as wisely as we can.”
Zimmerman is leaning toward another year of state-local marketing partnerships, although a final decision is pending the analysis of data from 2002 campaigns and the willingness of visitor bureaus to participate, Zimmerman said. Specifics on any 2003 campaigns, including target markets, are up to partnering communities, and that interest so far is high, he said.
“My assumption is we’re going to do this again,” he said. “We’ve got people interested all over the state.”
In the Lake Michigan shoreline promotion, known as “Beachtowns,” Travel Michigan matched $42,000 in local contributions to pay for an $84,000 advertising blitz that targeted the Indianapolis market on behalf of six destination communities. The ads ran from April to August in the Sunday travel section of the Indianapolis Star.
While data quantifying the success of the first-year effort is difficult to obtain, the head of the Holland Area Convention & Visitors Bureau believes the effort definitely generated results via increased traffic from Indiana.
One gauge was the massive increase in visitors to the Holland Area CVB’s Web site during a period that coincided with the Indianapolis Star advertising buys. Visits to the bureau’s Web site that originated through a link on the “Beachtowns” page on Travel Michigan’s Web site (www.michigan.org) went from 840 between April and August in 2001, to 5,681 during the same period in 2002.
Sally Laukitis, the Holland bureau’s executive director, said she also was “amazed” at how many people from Indiana came into the organization’s downtown Holland office this summer seeking information about local attractions.
“It was good for us,” said Laukitis, who wants to re-up for a 2003 partnership. “When I look at the amount of promotion I got out from this campaign, I couldn’t buy that on my own.”
Joining Holland for the Beachtowns campaign were St. Joseph, Grand Haven, Muskegon, Ludington and Mackinaw City. Each visitors bureau gave $7,000 to the campaign.
Travel Michigan mounted similar partnerships with CVBs in Detroit, a collective $500,000 effort targeting the Cleveland market, and Mackinac Island, which is now in the midst of an $80,000 effort aimed at Chicago.
Overall, the Beachtowns portion of the Travel Michigan Web site generated more than 75,000 user sessions from April to August. About 32,000 of those visitors clicked over to a Web site of one of the six participating visitors bureaus.
Zimmerman considers that a “pretty darn good” result that indicates the marketing partnership was effective in generating awareness of Michigan destinations among travelers coming into the state.
“On first blush, that’s pretty strong,” he said.
Benefits of the partnerships are tri-fold, Zimmerman said. The joint promotions initially leverage financial resources and market specific destinations in the state, rather than “just selling a generic campaign with a ‘come to Michigan’ message,” he said.
Long term, the value received is the business relationships Travel Michigan builds with local CVBs and travel-related businesses. Zimmerman has made reconnecting with the private sector a major staple of the agency’s new marketing strategy going forward.
“We can’t help but be closer to you by doing these partnerships,” he said. “It only positions us closer.”