Pure Michigan pays big returnPublished 10:18pm Wednesday, February 29, 2012
EDWARDSBURG — Pure Michigan positions this state as a majestic, mythic and magical alternative to sameness found across the “United States of Generica.”
There are “authentic” destinations such as Mackinac Island with 125-year Grand Hotel, Greenfield Village and Motown’s Hitsville USA, where real people live.
Lighthouses ringing the longest freshwater coastline around ocean-like Great Lakes, are “romantic, like America’s castles,” and help travel promoters make “emotional” connections.
For every dollar spent by the state promoting tourism, $3.29 is made in return.
Visitors spent $17.2 billion — up $2.1 billion — in 2010 during a deep recession.
That’s one reason Forbes ranked Pure Michigan sixth on an all-time list topped by what happens in Las Vegas stays there.
Pure Michigan is part of Travel Michigan of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC), a 13-person office, which markets the state like soda as a travel-destination product.
Dave Lorenz, manager of public and industry relations, joined the office in 2002 from a background that included radio broadcasting.
Lorenz, speaking to the annual Edwardsburg Area Chamber of Commerce dinner Wednesday evening at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church, said Pure Michigan trod a “circuitous path” sharpening today’s narrative from the broad “like Alaska, only closer.”
“People still ask, ‘Why does the government promote tourism? Shouldn’t the private sector invest in that?’ Our job is to give the private sector a little boost,” said Lorenz, of Grand Haven. “By helping the travel industry, we help everyone in the state” because leisure and hospitality show the greatest growth potential.
It is a sector that ranks near the top in job creation.
“I think we’ll be among the first 10 states out of the recession — not the last one out,” Lorenz said, conceding that soaring gas prices depleting discretionary income which could have been spent on vacationing is returning as a “big concern.”
“If we can help get people to think of this state in a different way, it will help us in all ways,” Lorenz said — especially Detroit. Until people truly change their attitude about Detroit, the rest of the state will never succeed in improving. That’s how important Detroit is.”
“People want to visit places they’d like to live, but you’re not going to go where you’ve always thought bad things about. The farther away you are, people think two things: we are bad, old Detroit with billowing smokestacks and super cold and inhospitable.
“You can’t control the message anymore with social media and the Internet. Everybody’s a publisher. Today, we just hope to be part of the message.”
Comparisons to Alaska reflect Michigan’s natural splendor — turquoise water, forests, beaches, orchards and 11,000 inland lakes.
The state with the spirit which put America on wheels and won World War II with the Arsenal of Democracy also offers unique experiences, such as Diego Rivera’s murals, the Mackinac Bridge at sunrise or Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
“Travel is the biggest peace exporter in the world,” Lorenz said. “Pure Michigan is less like everything is and is more like everything was meant to be. Westlake, Ohio, is like Toledo, Ohio, is like Schaumburg, Ill., is like Milwaukee, Wis., is like Indianapolis. The same places to live, shop, eat and have fun. My boss, George Zimmermann, the best travel director in the country, says we are the United States of Generica.”
Michigan.org has been the most popular state travel website in the country for five years, he said, with 9 million users in 2011 and 6 million click-throughs to a restaurant, hotel or specialty store for Pure Michigan merchandise — more than 16,000 per day.
Targeting those 35 and older who are likely to travel, Pure Michigan marketers rely on an array of powerful social media tools, from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube videos to blogs, flickr and Pinterest. A million Travel Ideas magazines are printed.
Visually sumptuous commercials written like poetry are voiced by “Toy Story” astronaut Buzz Lightyear — Michigan’s own Tim Allen. They “wrap” Chicago buses with messages.
“We try to remind people that life is only so long, we’re perishable, so live it fully, completely and with purpose and passion,” Lorenz said.