Stay Close to Home for Summer Fun
Michigan tourism officials are hoping to cash in on the national downturn in travel by highlighting everything the state has to offer. “You don’t have to travel far to have a good vacation,” said George Zimmerman, vice president of Travel Michigan, the marketing division of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. With that concept in mind, the tourism industry is getting a big boost next year. State spending on promoting Michigan will go from $17.5 million to over $30 million as a first-ever national advertising campaign is launched. “Summer is the biggest tourism season, and studies show the state’s efforts to cash in on those dollars has paid off,” said Zimmermann. Last year $18 billion in tourism dollars were taken in—half from residents and half from those outside Michigan. The money pumped a much needed $1.1 billion in tax revenue into state coffers. Since travel by state residents is expected to be down 3.6 percent this year, the MEDC has been forced to look “outside the glove.”
“Michigan’s economy is going through a transition now, so it’s not surprising that residents aren’t traveling as much,” said Zimmermann. “We’re looking to attract out-of-state tourism dollars.” Eighty percent of the state’s advertising money is being spent in nine primary areas outside of Michigan: Chicago, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Ontario. This year, thanks to the boost in tourism funding, Michigan will add three additional markets: Columbus, Dayton and St. Louis.
Zimmermann said Mackinac Island is one of Michigan’s most popular travel destinations, bringing in visitors from all over the world. Dubbed the “all natural” theme park, it serves as an eco-friendly destination as well. Visitors can take a trip back in time. There are no cars allowed; travel is limited to walking, horse and buggy or bicycle rides. The main attractions are the historic Fort Mackinac and the Grand Hotel, where the movie Somewhere in Time was filmed.
Zimmermann said there are plenty of attractions to see all over the state. “It all depends on what you’re looking for. We have family vacation destinations and those designed for adults opting to leave the kids at home.” Tourists heading to southeast Michigan can take in a night of casino gambling, sports or theater. Those looking to escape the city can find beach towns from Saugatuck north along the state’s western shoreline all the way to the Upper Peninsula. Michigan, according to tourism officials, has something for everyone. Its two peninsulas have over 3,000 miles of freshwater coastline, maritime museums and more lighthouses than any ocean state! Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior offers visitors remote wilderness where moose can be seen roaming free. There are nearly 900 golf courses, including historic Oakland Hills in metro Detroit and Warwick Hills near Flint, home of the Buick Open.
The tourism industry is considered one of the best ways for Michigan to turn its economy around. Zimmermann said studies have shown that money spent promoting the state gets a great return on investment. For every $1 spent on tourism advertising outside the state, businesses take in $40.29 and the state takes in $2.82 in taxes. Between 2004-2007, there were 3.8 million new visitors to Michigan, and those travelers spent some $805 million on everything from gambling to ballpark franks to fudge! The Pure Michigan tourism campaign is being credited with the increased visitor travel. The ads that feature actors and Michigan natives Jeff Daniels and Tim Allen took first place from the Travel Industry Association of America for best campaign. It was Michigan’s first win in 25 years of submissions. More on the destinations Michigan has to offer are on the state website: www.michigan.org/travelads. Zimmermann said the website is the most popular in the country, with 12 million visitors in 2007 alone. “We constantly update it and are now allowing travelers to log on and share memories of their trip.”
One of the businesses cashing in on all the state has to offer is Dean Trailways of Michigan. The Lansing-based motor coach company was busy before gas prices began to spike but is even busier now. “We help promote tourism in Michigan by providing a more cost-effective way for folks to get out and see the state,” said Kellie Dean, president and CEO of Dean Trailways. Dean said group travel has gained in popularity of late. “When you spread out the cost of gas to 20 or 30 passengers, the price of traveling isn’t that big of a deal anymore.”
Today, traveling by motor coach can still mean traveling in style. The company has regular charters that feature forward-facing reclining seats, DVD players, VCR, and stereo sound systems. The motor coach has one bathroom on board, and luggage is stored under the passenger compartment. But Dean said for the executive traveler, or someone who wants to feel like one, the Executive VIP buses are available. “It depends on just how unique you want your experience and how many amenities you’d like.” The Executive is a gutted-out bus made into a board room/living room setting. Seats––either chair or bench seat couches––face each other. Due to the uniqueness of the design, seating is more limited, about half a normal motor coach. The Executive VIP line also features satellite/Direct TV, Internet, bathroom facilities and a galley with a microwave oven and refrigerator. Dean said the specialized buses are quite popular among entertainers and political candidates, but have also been a hit for bachelor and bachelorette parties. Cost is based on either hourly rate or mileage.
Dean said popular destinations are Michigan Adventure, Frankenmuth, the Tulip Festival in Holland, the Traverse City Cherry Festival, the docks of St. Ignace for the ferries to Mackinac Island and the northern Michigan wine and fall color tours. But Dean said the most popular trips, by far, are to the casinos. “Thirty-five percent of our business involves runs to Soaring Eagle Casino in Mt. Pleasant, along with trips to the Detroit casinos, Little River, Kewadin, Blue Chip Casino, Tunica and Casino Niag.”
Dean said the summer months are big for trips to Cedar Point for thrill-seekers and the Magnificent Mile in Chicago for bargain shoppers. Both destinations can be made in day or overnight bookings. Other destinations outside of Michigan include Six Flags, Disney World, Busch Gardens and Minnesota’s Mall of America.
There is something new this year for sports fans. While Dean has always provided transportation to Michigan State University away football games, travelers can now book all festivities with Dean with one phone call. “With our new football packages, you can get the bus ride plus a ticket to the game, the tailgate party and a pep rally,” he explained. “They’re pretty discounted prices so the packages sell out pretty quickly.” Dean said the tickets can be purchased for a day trip or a whole weekend.
While environmentally friendly efforts have been sweeping the nation, these Michigan businesses are looking to get on board as well. Kellie Dean said the company is working with the Michigan Legislature to make improvements and changes. “We’re working more with alternative fuels, adding supplements to oil and lubricants that will reduce emissions, and developing new engines that reduce emissions.” The company is also eliminating idling of buses to reduce the use of fuel, and is buying recycled products.For more information on environmentally friendly hotels, check out the Department of Labor and Economic Growth’s Green Lodging Program on the state website at www.michigan.gov. Those interested in making sure their trip to the golf course is really “green” can get that information by accessing the Green Marina and Golf Projects link.
Michigan Economic Development Corporation
300 N. Washington Square
President and CEO
Dean Trailways of Michigan
4812 Aurelius Road