We have a great product; here’s how we’re selling it

Despite facing some of the toughest challenges that the tourism industry has had to face here in Michigan, there is a feeling of optimism among Michigan's tourism industry.

Although we are confronted by a weak economy, record gas prices, low consumer confidence and eroding discretionary income, we feel that our state and our region are positioned for a successful summer season.

In a recent survey by Travel Industry Association (TIA), 60 percent of Americans planning on taking a trip will not change their plans even with the higher gas prices. Of the respondents who stated they would change their plans if gas went higher, 38 percent said they would take trips closer to home. Vacation is an important part of American family life and is not easily given up.

In the May issue of the Traverse City Business News readers were asked what they thought could be done to improve the region as a tourist destination. Responses included increasing promotion of the area and working more closely with the state to promote Traverse City on a larger scale.

Both of these responses are valid, and I'm pleased to say that the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau (TCCVB) is currently engaged in both of these initiatives. Since our marketing efforts are mostly executed outside of our area, to lure visitors to our region, local residents are unlikely to know about them.

With regards to increased promotion, through some internal reorganization we have been able to increase our 2008 advertising budget by 67 percent over 2007. We recognize the need and value of promotion and building our brand in new markets. While many businesses pull back on advertising in a down economy, we believe that's when promotion becomes even more important.

As for working with the state, we are participating with Travel Michigan, the state's tourism department, in two partnership programs. One is a partnership for a Chicago radio campaign (with Tim Allen as spokesman) using the state's new "Pure Michigan" brand. The commercial can be heard at www.visittraversecity.com. The other is a joint partnership we organized with five other northwest Michigan convention & visitors bureaus, marketing ourselves as "Michigan's North Coast," with a radio campaign in northern Indiana and Toledo.

Building our brand outside of Michigan, while maintaining a presence in Michigan, is critical to the future of our tourism industry. The lack of awareness of our product was reinforced last summer with the National Governors Association (NGA) convention. Over and over we heard from these well-traveled and educated convention delegates that they "had no idea!" Michigan had a place like Traverse City.

In addition to these partnership efforts with the state, we have billboards along major expressways in Chicago, advertisements in various Chicago area magazines and newspapers and direct-mail campaigns in the Chicagoland area. Beyond our efforts in Michigan, we are running various mini-campaigns in Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and St. Louis, which are markets where Travel Michigan is running the "Pure Michigan" campaign. Our goal is for people to understand that you find pure Michigan in the Traverse City area.

Our industry is very excited about the additional funds that the state is committing to tourism marketing over the next two years. This is moving the state in the direction that has long been needed. New markets are being added to the campaign this year, and next year we will have our first-ever national campaign.

Tough times? Yes. Yet, there is cause for optimism. We have a great product, and we are doing a better job – as a region and as a state – of reaching out to tell our story and attract new customers. BN