Some tourism industry leaders, hospitality business owners, employees and citizens are biting their nails as Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm and state legislators decide whether they will find money in the budget to support the one industry that couldn’t leave the state if it tried. Afterall, it’s not easy to relocate the Sleeping Bear Dunes, or Mackinac Island.
Tourism has been important to the state since the late 1800s when Victorian city dwellers escaped to Michigan’s clean air, fresh waters, scenic sights, and fudge shops.
In 1959 the Michigan Tourist Council promoted “the magic holiday funland called Michigan” in The National Geographic Magazine, and an ad in a 1954 issue touted the state’s “inland seashore” and thousands of “forest-ringed lakes…well-stocked fishing streams…historic landmarks…thrilling scenic routes…”
The essentials haven’t changed since those ads ran. Four Great Lakes still lap against Michigan’s shore, the rivers and 19-million acres of forest continue to roll out recreational opportunities, and the historic landmarks are just that much more historic.
Other industries boom and bust, build and abandon factories, flirt with and desert the state. But the freshwater beaches, fishing streams, wineries, ski trails, lighthouses, and institutions like The Henry Ford (Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village) remain. Today, the experts count some 200,000 tourism-related jobs across the state; a Return On Investment study calculates that for every dollar spent promoting travel to Michigan, visitors drop $2.86 here.
Travel Michigan, the state’s tourism office, has built awareness of the state’s charms through its award-winning, heart-tugging, tear-inducing, Web hit-generating Pure Michigan campaign created by the McCann Erickson agency. The radio and television advertising (voiced by Michigan talent Tim Allen), print ads, outdoor boards, social media, public relations and promotional programs cost $30 million over the last year. Was it worth it? Time will tell. There will be studies and surveys. I know that as I traveled across the state this summer everyone I asked credited Pure Michigan for bringing more visitors to their doors (and cash registers).
Yet the new fiscal year begins on October 1 and our elected officials still haven’t committed to supporting one of the state’s major economic contributors with a repeat of those promotional dollars.
And that for them not to support Pure Michigan is pure folly.
Full disclosure: I am a contributing writer on the michigan.org Web site and Michigan Travel Ideas, the state’s official visitor magazine, published by Midwest Living Magazine.