Governor’s Conference on Tourism Lands in TC

Michigan’s premier tourism industry conference lands in Traverse City next month, bringing with it ideas, innovation and the latest travel intelligence.

“Hospitality Reimagined” is this year’s theme for the annual Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa. Speakers and sessions are planned to illuminate “[h]ow industry is facing and embracing change and adapting to it,” said Deanna Richeson, president and CEO of Check In Michigan, the lodging organization that presents the conference in collaboration with many sectors of the tourism and hospitality industries.

The March 5-7 conference will also highlight the Traverse City area, introducing attendees to two big changes – the resort’s renovated Governors’ Hall meeting and event venue and the new conference center and features at the Park Place Hotel & Conference Center, host of the tourism gathering’s opening-night reception, said Trevor Tkach, president and CEO of Traverse City Tourism.

The conference is important, he said, and a reminder “to the rest of the state and others involved in the tourism space that Traverse City is dedicated to a high-level, high-quality experience for all visitors.”

More than 800 attendees are expected at a gathering that will include keynote speakers sharing research, trends and energy. The agenda includes an update on state tourism efforts by Travel Michigan vice president Dave Lorenz, who sees a travel audience that is shifting and expanding and a need for Travel Michigan to continually adapt. “I’ll be doing some visioning on where I think our industry is going and what we need to do to be prepared for it, to meet the needs of current and future travel,” Lorenz said.

There are important niches to pay attention to – like leisure, business, sports and international travelers – as well as the growing prominence of millennials in a leisure travel sector previously dominated by people age 55 and older with families, Lorenz said. “Part of the future of Travel Michigan is to continue our evolution from being an exclusive leisure travel marketer, to being a holistic travel marketer,” he said.

New this spring in the Pure Michigan ad campaign is what Lorenz calls an “always on” approach that will use mostly digital media to constantly promote the year’s next travel season to the national audience.
“It’s going to mean that 12 months out of the year, we’re going to have a message going … moving ahead of time to meet the next season” and travelers’ interests, Lorenz said.

He also hinted at new TV ads he’ll talk about at the conference, including one featuring a “different type of nightlife” – the dark night skies – as a motivation to travel to Michigan.

Opening keynote speaker Erin Francis-Cummings is slated to talk about the latest trends in the hospitality industry and present international and domestic data. She is president and CEO of San Francisco-based Destination Analysts, a tourism research and marketing company that works with tourism entities and destination marketing organizations.

Following Francis-Cummings are “fire-up sessions” that touch on some hot-button topics in the industry, like a breakout session on crisis management that will include a toolkit to aid industry members.

Other fire-up sessions are on diverse workforce development, leadership and new ways of communicating via social media and digital aspects as well as storytelling. The sessions are designed to provide information and tactics participants can put to use when they return to their operations, Richeson said.

The conference also features another type of breakout – “shirt sleeve” sessions that are peer-to-peer small group interactions. The sessions are aimed at networking, sharing experiences and issues and solving problems and feature topics that include: women in leadership, emerging professionals, social media/marketing, sales, rooms operations, food and beverage, catering and event management.

Another offering is a workshop led by Travel Michigan staff on Pure Michigan brand standards and use of the logo, a registered trademark.

“It has some ready recognition, and it’s a positive, feel-good orientation when someone mentions Pure Michigan,” Richeson said. “For those that want to give it a try, we’re ready to give them the guidelines to use the brand in their product marketing.”

The conference lineup includes speaker Chris Johnson, founder and CEO of East Lansing-based On Target Living LLC, a health and performance company that works with organizations and individuals to increase focus, energy and drive. Richeson, who has attended some of Johnson’s workshops, said conferees should gain much, such as ideas on “how they can take better care of themselves and be more energized” and perspectives on “why taking care of employees’ overall health and wellness is crucial to succeeding” and meeting guests’ desires and expectations for services.

Also addressing the conference will be comedian and motivational speaker Dwayne Gill, a Detroit native. Also featured is Chris Thompson, a former Michigan State Trooper, former U.S. Marine and Brand USA President and CEO. As the head of the nation’s public-private partnership dedicated to increasing international visitation to the U.S. through marketing and promotion, Thompson is expected to offer insights on national trends.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has been invited to attend the conference and a legislative breakfast will discuss key industry issues, challenges and bipartisan working energy in the new legislature. She is expected to address the importance of the tourism industry in Michigan.

Tkach said that given the Michigan landscape – with a new governor and legislative leaders in Lansing – the conference comes at an opportune time.

“I think this is an important time for Michigan to come together and rally around the things we hold dear,” he said. “Tourism is a big industry for our state, I think both sides of the aisle would agree on that, so to have a conference so soon after a shift in leadership, new positions being taken … I think this is a good kickoff, good reminder … [that] we need bipartisan participation” and support.

Conference information and registration is available at

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.