Driving Tourism

More than 575 of Michigan’s travel and tourism leaders gathered for the Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association’s annual “Driving Tourism” conference held last week at Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.

As hosts of the tourism conference, it’s an exciting time to open our doors to a new season,” said Ken Hayward, Grand Hotel’s vice-president of sales and marketing and chairperson of the Michigan Travel Commission, which also met at the event.

“To have a group of our peers as our first guests of the season is exciting and challenging at the same time. We want everything to go perfectly,” he said of the start of the Grand Hotel’s 124th summer.

Grand Hotel was sold out during the conference, and “making everything go perfectly” was a major theme running through the seminars according to Steve Yencich, president and CEO of the Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association.

$15 million budget

Seminars included topics such as public relations, website redesign, culinary tourism, green lodging initiatives, social media, innkeeper liability, an owner’s investment forum, and appearances by Gov. Jennifer Granholm and U.S. Congressman Pete Hoekstra, who is a Republican gubernatorial candidate.

“The focus of the Travel Commission meeting was to go over the marketing strategy of Travel Michigan, the budget they have to spend, and how they’re going to spend it,” Hayward said.

“Moving forward our focus is securing permanent tourism promotion funding of $30 million a year. Educating new legislators as to the importance of the tourism industry to the state’s economy will be our focus.”

After last year’s record-high $30 million in advertising spending to promote tourism options, Michigan has to get by this year on $15 million allocated by the legislature.

“The story of Michigan was being left untold because the state was not willing to invest sufficient monies to promote this state and its third largest industry,” Yencich said.

“Now, with this $15 million this year, the national ‘Pure Michigan’ campaign ads will air for the month of May. The beauty of the national commercials is that we can then maintain contact with the Michigan resident base as we also reach out to 49 other states with substantially stronger economies than Michigan. Sixty-five percent of total tourism outcomes come from Michigan residents, so we don’t want to lose contact there.”

National campaign

In addition to the national cable television commercials, long-standing regional markets such as Chicago, Indianapolis and Cleveland will get saturated with “Pure Michigan” billboards, radio ads and bus wraps.

Michigan.org, for the past three years, has been the most popular state tourism website.

Travel industry attendees learned that collaboration can sometimes make for surprising partnerships, according to Yencich.

“It’s not always about connections between tourism businesses in the same area,” he said.

“Sometimes it’s connecting a metropolitan convention and visitors bureau with a resort destination. For instance, a trip to the Henry Ford or Tiger game in Detroit or Common Ground Festival in Lansing might be part of a family vacation in northern Michigan.”

There is no denying that the feeling evoked by the sweeping views seen while standing on Grand Hotel’s porch – the world’s largest – is one of both wonder and pride. With two Great Lakes, Huron and Michigan, in sight, divided only by the delicate Mackinac Bridge, it is as if you are standing at the rail aboard a majestic ship called Michigan.

With $15 million of coal in the state’s tourism engine, the tourism leaders who attended the “Driving Tourism” conference are rowing in unison and hoping for smooth sailing this summer.

May 9, 2010
Originally printed in the Lansing State Journal

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