Topping Pure Michigan

What's the next big Michigan tourism idea? Nine hundred people will decide soon.

A competition offering a $5,000 prize for a winning Michigan tourism idea will end at the upcoming Pure Michigan Governor's Conference on Tourism – an annual gathering that's seen as a must-attend event by many in the tourism sector and a chance to discuss industry issues, learn and network.

The conference – this year in Detroit but next year in Traverse City – is an opportunity to "get updated on the state of our state's tourism industry," said Brad Van Dommelen, president and CEO of the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau. "The information that's disseminated helps everybody get a better sense as to where we're going; what we're doing."

This year's meeting is April 14-16 at the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center. In 2014, Grand Traverse Resort and Spa will host the meeting from April 6-8. The conference has grown to more than 900 attendees, including tourism representatives, economic development officials and others.

"It is the single biggest gathering of the tourism industry in the state, so I think it's become very important," said George Zimmermann, vice president of Travel Michigan, the state's tourism-marketing arm.

For example, industry leadership and members get the latest information on areas like the Pure Michigan campaign and state tourism expectations. Zimmermann said the event also is a venue to share best practices and network with people from diverse backgrounds.

New this year is Pure Michigan Jump Start, a competition offering a $5,000 prize for a winning Michigan tourism idea. The competition is modeled after Start Garden, a Grand Rapids venture capital fund that invests in new ideas that can potentially grow into businesses.

Pure Michigan Jump Start sought tourism-related ideas through its website. Respondents filled out a two-page form; the top five candidates are expected to give a 90-second pitch at the conference, after which attendees will cast votes and select a winner.

"Anything involved with this thing we call tourism is something that we're hoping to seed," said Steve Yencich, president and CEO of the Michigan Lodging and Tourism Association. The association produces the conference in conjunction with Travel Michigan and Michigan State University.

Another conference feature is MSU's tourism outlook, a presentation that includes a review of the industry's 2012 performance and projections for 2013.

Sarah Nicholls, a conference presenter and associate professor in the MSU department of community, agriculture, recreation and resource studies and the department of geography, said she has heard from various convention and visitors bureaus and properties "that a lot of them had banner years, really record-breaking years," in 2012.

Nicholls said that reflects the continuing economic recovery and consumers' confidence and inclination to "take a little time and spend a little of their discretionary income on travel," as well as the success and national spread of the Pure Michigan campaign.

That campaign, the latest research on its return on investment, and what lies ahead for promotion, are slated for a session presented by Travel Michigan's Zimmermann. He said he expects the Pure Michigan session to include discussion of the state's proposed international plans, an area of high interest to many in the industry.

Gov. Rick Snyder's proposed budget for fiscal 2014 called for an additional $4 million for Pure Michigan, boosting tourism promotion funding from $25 million to $29 million. If approved, the additional money would enable the state to enter the Toronto market, beef up its presence in Europe and promote Michigan tourism in Asia, Zimmermann said.

At press time, the budget was still in play in the Legislature.

Other conference features include a discussion of Michigan's new five-year tourism strategic plan and its implementation; an industry awards dinner headlined by remarks by Gov. Rick Snyder; and keynote speakers Josh Linkner, CEO and managing partner of Detroit Venture Partners LLC, founder and chairman of ePrize and author of Disciplined Dreaming: A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity; and Peter Yesawich, vice chairman of MMGY Global, billed as the world's largest and most integrated travel marketing firm.

Last year's conference added an economic-development element and was marketed to that community, and that focus continues this year.

"We've always believed that there's a very significant economic development component to tourism, both local and statewide," Yencich said. "Someone who is considering coming to Michigan, bringing a new industry, company to the state, must first visit or vacation here and discover all the state has to offer before he or she will consider relocating."

The conference includes breakout sessions in economic development, lodging, tourism, and digital marketing.

Van Dommelen said he has been invited to show a short video of Traverse City as a preview to next year's event.

Conference information is available at 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.

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