Back On: Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism launches Nov. 2
by Amy Lane
It’s been a year and a half since members of Michigan’s tourism industry gathered for the Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism.
And on the heels of times like the industry has never seen, the stage is set for the annual meeting to resume, bringing together old faces and new – in person – November 2-4 at MotorCity Casino Hotel in Detroit.
“This is going to be welcome back,” said Dave Lorenz, vice president of Travel Michigan, the state’s tourism marketing agency. “Even in November, it’s going to be time for the welcome, it’s time we get back to business.”
The conference is about education, networking, motivation and inspiration, Lorenz says.
“There’s nothing like that personal touch,” he said. “It’s time to get back to it.”
Trevor Tkach, president and CEO of Traverse City Tourism, agrees.
“I’m excited about it, I always am, but I think I’ll be even more excited for this one,” he said. “It will be good to see each other’s faces, get back around the table and talk strategically about the future of tourism in our state.”
The conference, moved from its traditional spring date to the fall this year out of COVID-19 caution, is proceeding as an in-person event. It’s possible, though, the opportunity to watch and listen virtually could be added, creating a hybrid format.
“If we have a sellout,” said Lorenz, “then we’ll look at the options to include hybrid.”
He expects an in-person audience of around 400, far less than the 800 to 1,000 people who have attended the conference in the past. But Lorenz says conference organizers knew this year would be unlikely to draw the larger crowd due to strained budgets of small businesses and associations and business staffing difficulties.
As of early July, conference plans were still being finalized, but several elements of the agenda had been settled. Lorenz said the conference’s Nov. 2 start will include an activity organized by Michigan Cares for Tourism, a partnership of tourism professionals who join to help restore Michigan’s historic, cultural and natural attractions, learn about a Michigan tourism destination, and network. Industry and Michigan Travel Commission meetings and an evening opening reception are among other plans for the day.
The next day, Lorenz will officially open the conference with comments that he said will recognize “the challenge that we’ve all gone through, but also set the stage for a very positive future.”
That includes addressing the reality that travel patterns are going to be shifting as Michiganders who have been traveling in-state last year and this year look in 2022 to explore elsewhere, he said.
It’s going to be important to offset the loss that will be left behind “by Michiganders being pulled to other places,” Lorenz said.
“We need to make sure that the industry is prepared with everything that we can provide them, to bounce back as soon as possible,” he said. “That’s why this educational conference is so important. We’ll do our best to equip people with the information and resources they need to get through the next challenge.”
Michigan in the last year has been marketing in-state and regionally, but national and international promotion is taking on heightened importance.
“This coming year, if we’re not marketing nationally and internationally, we will lose,” said Lorenz. “Because that’s what our competition is gearing up to do. We know it.”
Tori Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs and policy with the U.S. Travel Association, is slated as opening keynote speaker. The Washington, D.C.-based national nonprofit organization says it represents all components of the travel industry by identifying and communicating high-impact issues and advocates for policies that will benefit the industry.
Tkach said U.S. Travel “is a very important partner” for Pure Michigan and Traverse City Tourism, helping at the federal level to deliver a message of the travel industry’s needs, keeping the industry prominent.
Also on the agenda is acclaimed tourism researcher and consultant Adam Sacks, president of Tourism Economics. Tourism Economics’ expertise includes providing global travel data sets, travel forecasts, economic impact and policy analysis, and market assessments.
Sacks is expected to offer a look at tourism back through the pandemic and ahead, Lorenz says.
“Not only will it be important for us to see where we’ve been, but where we’re going,” he said.
On the meeting’s final day, the lineup includes a keynote speaker on diversity, equity and inclusion and a conference wrap-up by Lorenz, touching on elements from sessions and speakers and providing a look forward for Travel Michigan and the industry in the coming year.
There will also be an afternoon round table, bringing together students and tourism industry members – an opportunity for students to interact with professionals and connect on advice and opportunities.
Funding for the state’s Pure Michigan campaign may not be an official part of the agenda, but it will likely continue to occupy conversations. And it should, Tkach says.
He says Pure Michigan has an impact that transcends hospitality and tourism, going to the overall perception of the state as a place to live and locate business.
“Truly for the image, the brand of our state, (it) is so important,” he said.
He also calls the future of Pure Michigan’s campaign “critical.”
“When we get together, if we aren’t making this a number one objective of our conversations, we’re missing out on a very important opportunity,” he said.
Amy Lane is a freelance journalist and former reporter for Crain’s Detroit Business, where she covered business, state government, energy and utilities for nearly 25 years.