New Michigan Campaign Draws Interest, But Gas Hikes May Hurt

While it's too soon to say how many summer travelers will come because of its "Pure Michigan" ad campaign, Travel Michigan says the effort has had a big impact on traffic to its Web site. In April, Michigan ranked first of 50 states in terms of Internet hits for tourism, says George Zimmermann, the group's vice president.

The campaign, which broke last year in Chicago, Cleveland and Indianapolis, has been expanded to include Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Ontario, as well as Michigan. Out-of-state spending is $8.7 million, while the Michigan media buy is $1.5 million.

Reaching out to more surrounding areas is part of an evolving marketing strategy, Zimmermann says. Historically, Michigan residents have been the state's biggest travel fans. But, faced with economic struggles linked to the auto industry, there's been an increasing awareness that Michigan needs to attract tourists from neighboring states--all of which have their own lovely lakes and fairways to tempt tourists.

"Back in the salad days, Michigan counted on most of its tourism from in-state travelers," says Zimmermann. "But as the local economy weakened, people have become more and more aware that reaching out to surrounding states for tourism is important."

Last year, visitors spent $17.5 billion, generating $971 million in state taxes, and accounting for 193,000 jobs statewide. About 70% of that revenue came from in-state visitors.

In fact, Zimmermann says the campaign has produced a steady stream of e-mails from former and current residents, saying the spots "make me feel proud to be from Michigan." That tradition of enjoying Michigan's natural beauty, whether it's the pristine Upper Peninsula, Mackinaw Island, inland lakes or Lake Michigan beaches, "is a tremendous asset."

The ads promote the state's golf, lake, hiking and beach vacations, and are narrated by Michigan native and television personality Tim Allen. All carry the tagline, "Pure Michigan--Your trip begins at michigan.org." New executions will soon feature urban destinations.

So far, Zimmermann says, the ads are generating interest. Following the launch of the ad promoting Michigan golf vacations, for example, Michigan ranked No. 1 out of 50 states in web visits in April, according to Hitwise.

But, thanks to skyrocketing gas prices, it's hard to predict how many will actually book a trip. Because Michigan boasts more fresh-water coastline than any other state, leisure boating is typically a big draw, as is RV travel, and both will be out of reach of many families this year. "We'll definitely see downward pressure on those types of trips," he says.

Even with the best creative, he says, it's tough to predict "how many travelers we'll gain because of gas prices, and how many we might lose. We'll have to wait and see what kind of return on investment we've gotten at the end of the summer, in terms of hotel occupancy rates."

In tourism, Zimmermann says, "there are some things you can control, like great branding. This work, from McCann-Erickson, is the best creative I've ever been associated with. But with other things-like gas prices and the weather-you just have to take your chances."

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