Pure Michigan Pushing Forward: A Look At The 2015 Governor’s Conference On Tourism

Pure Michigan isn’t resting on laurels.

And what’s up with the brand, and Michigan’s tourism industry, is on stage next month at the Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism.

Look for details from a Google Inc. partnership making select Michigan trails and destinations viewable from anywhere in the world, ideas for collaboration, the latest economic data and industry outlook, and perspectives from David West, the energized new Travel Michigan vice president, among the takeaways at the state’s single largest state tourism gathering to be held March 22-24 at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids.

The conference is produced by the Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association (MLTA) in conjunction with Travel Michigan, Michigan State University and a variety of tourism organizations.

“It’s an industry conference, so it’s an opportunity for us to kind of see the big picture of … the direction the state is going, the results from the previous year, see what’s happening with tourism in the state,” said Brad Van Dommelen, president and CEO of Traverse City Tourism.

And with West taking over the reins of the state’s tourism branding, advertising and public relations efforts, “there’s going to be a lot of interest in what will be new ideas,” Van Dommelen said.

West, who grew up in East Lansing and returns to Michigan from a post as vice president of marketing at Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau, said one thing industry members will see is that, “I never settle. We’re going to continue to grow.”

His conference presentation is expected to include discussion of work that’s begun on a new Pure Michigan website – a redesign to be more user-friendly and experiential through elements such as content that tells stories. The approach is a way to inspire travel and will be used on numerous aspects of what travelers look for in Michigan – be it sailing, hiking and biking, hunting and fishing, or romantic getaways, West said.

He hopes the redesign will be completed by late fall and said: “It is my goal that we will be hands-down the best state tourism website in the country.”

The focus on conveying feeling and playing to passions is an evolution of the Pure Michigan brand that is also being eyed for future advertising; for example, capturing moments –  “the romance of sitting on the dunes” with a blanket and a bottle of wine and watching the sunset, West said.

“The backdrop is what you have already,” West said. “The only thing that we’re evolving into is that sort of granular experience that we’re going to be highlighting. I want to get so that consumers around the world say, ‘I want to do that.’”

West also hopes to share new data on tourism’s economic impact in Michigan with conference attendees, and said he’s looking forward to the conference to network and visit with a Michigan tourism community that he said is the foundation of the Pure Michigan brand.

“I’m going to thank everybody for what they’ve done to build it to what it is today,” he added. “I want people to understand, I’m just the latest caretaker. The brand is built off of the industry, the brand is built off of the partnerships, the brand is built off of the individuals” who will be attending the conference. “They,” he said, “are Pure Michigan.”

The Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism, which could surpass last year’s count of 1,000 tourism representatives, economic development officials and others, is also expected to include an announcement involving a tourism product emerging from a partnership employing Google’s Trekker. The Trekker is a portable camera system used to collect imagery of locations accessible by foot or inaccessible by car, for inclusion and viewing on Google Maps. The Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, VISIT FLORIDA and California State Parks are among those who have partnered with Google through its Trekker loan program.

Though specifics aren’t available prior to the conference, industry leaders said the partnership is mutually beneficial, from the tourism perspective for Michigan, and for Google, the ability to “add these amazing locations to the map” and further Google’s goal of creating the “most useful, accurate and comprehensive map for people to use,” said Susan Cadrecha, communications senior associate, maps, at Google.

The tourism conference agenda is filled with presentations by travel and tourism experts, including the annual MSU tourism outlook that reviews the industry’s 2014 performance and forecasts the upcoming tourism season.

New this year are “big idea” general sessions that feature business leaders discussing issues that revolve around the industry and the conference theme, collaboration.

The sessions are “really a great example of bringing together seemingly diverse tourism business owners and finding the commonality through that theme of collaboration. And how that benefits not just their business, but the customers they seek to serve,” said Steve Yencich, president and CEO of the MLTA.

Yencich said collaboration, an element of the Michigan tourism industry’s five-year strategic plan, is important to foster.

“The essential part of a good family vacation or leisure travel  is really getting out and enjoying all the different opportunities Michigan tourism presents … from golf courses, beaches, restaurants, hotels and so many other vacation venues. We thought it was really important to honor that theme” and create opportunities for partnerships that benefit travelers, he said.

The theme weaves through the meeting, beginning with Bill Rancic, the first-season winner of “The Apprentice” TV program, speaking on how to collaboratively succeed in business and life. At the conference’s end, is the Michigan Tourism Investment Forum.

The forum aims to bring together diverse stakeholders – from hotel and resort owners and managers and other tourism industry members to representatives of financial institutions, developers, consultants and economic development officials – “to discuss opportunities to refresh and grow Michigan’s tourism product,” whether that’s renovating existing properties or building new elements, Yencich said.

“The objective of the forum is to facilitate additional investment in Michigan’s outstanding tourism product and all things Pure Michigan.”

Other conference highlights include an annual awards dinner that recognizes talented individuals from all facets of the industry, and breakout sessions. Among session topics: Security and loss prevention; social media; implementation of the industry strategic plan; and opportunities, threats and questions posed by alternative lodging facilitators like Airbnb Inc., which connects people who want to rent space in their homes or properties to visitors, with travelers looking for non-traditional accommodations like entire residences, private and shared rooms.

Conference registration and information is available at www.milodging.org/conference.

Amy Lane is a former reporter for Crain’s Detroit Business, where she covered energy and utilities, state government and business for nearly 25 years.