West Michigan towns seek more Indiana travelers for beaches

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Capital News Service
LANSING — Travel Michigan, the state’s official agency for the promotion of tourism, is joining visitors bureaus of West Michigan to lure Indiana travelers to the state’s beach towns this summer.
The pilot marketing campaign, set to launch April 6, is an advertising partnership with matching fundsÑTravel Michigan will match dollar-for-dollar, up to $7,000 each, the funds allocated by local travel bureaus for print ads to be placed exclusively in The Indianapolis Star.
Five visitors bureaus are signed up for the pilot promotion—Muskegon, Grand Haven, Holland, Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council, and Mackinaw City—for a total of $70,000 to be used toward ad placement. Travel Michigan is assuming all creative costs of the campaign.
Travel Michigan seeks participation from shoreline communities between Benton Harbor and Mackinaw City. Vice President George Zimmerman said, “We’re surely open to having more participants—the more we have, the stronger we’ll be.”
Former Democratic Gov. James J. Blanchard, who while in office was heavily involved in promoting Michigan’s tourism business, agrees that neighboring regions are the state’s strongest market for tourism—particularly now that people are reluctant to fly.
“The potential of tourism here is incredible,” Blanchard said in a Capital News Service interview. “In fact, there’s even greater potential than there was before because people are sticking closer to home.”
Blanchard is running for governor in the 2002 election, and if elected, one of his goals is to bring tourism programs back to Michigan.
“We will bring back the tourism programs, which will be partnerships with local communities, and we will dramatically expand tourism advertising,” Blanchard said.
Survey data supports that while residents of Indianapolis want to spend their vacations at the beach, they don’t consider Michigan an appealing option. The director of marketing for Travel Michigan, Melinda Remer, said that in addition to the ad campaign, the agency hopes to hold a major promotional event in Indianapolis to help change skeptics’ minds.
Remer said the partnership will enable Travel Michigan to expand its ad placement while assisting local bureaus in promoting specific regions of the state to out-of-state tourists. If the pilot is a success, future partnerships will enable small towns—otherwise unable to afford advertising in Chicago or Cleveland—to reach these key market areas.
While downtown communities seem to be struggling, many agree that this type of community cooperation may be a solution. By collectively promoting Michigan’s west shore, the port communities will both contribute to and reap the benefits that out-of-state revenue brings to Michigan.
“Most people are really drawn to the quaintness of small towns, so I see that as having a connection to the health of smaller towns,” Blanchard said. “It’s clean jobs. If it’s done right, I’m very optimistic about the charm and strength of small-town Michigan.”
As former ambassador to Canada, Blanchard also realizes the potential market in Ontario. He said there are more people in Ontario than Michigan and the state needs to lure those people and other neighbors to Michigan by promoting the state’s unique attractions.
“People coming over here and spending their money is big time and I tell you they’re not going to want to go to a Wal-Mart,” he said. “They’ll certainly be drawn to the whole west side of the state, which is just magnificent.”
Remer said the benefits of participating in the summer Indianapolis pilot promotion stretch beyond inclusion in the print ads.
“We are creating an exclusive Web page with its own address for this project which will include a brief summary of each beach town and direct links to the individual bureaus’ pages,” she said.
© 2001, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism

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