Opinion: Slashing funds for Pure Michigan is losing gamble
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's veto of Pure Michigan, the state agency responsible for promoting tourism, is a significant blow to Michigan workers and the tourism economy in Michigan.
Too often, tourism promotion budgets find themselves a target when it’s time for state governments to tighten their belts. And while it is fair and healthy for a state to examine the effectiveness of all its agencies, the evidence points to an undeniable conclusion: Eliminating Pure Michigan is a miscalculation, and it could take decades before the state recovers.
Those who applaud the elimination of Pure Michigan see the agency as little more than commercials or billboards. But these critics misunderstand tourism’s economic impact on Michigan. In 2018, every dollar invested in Pure Michigan’s advertising yielded an impressive return on investment of $9.28. Visitor spending generated $2.8 billion in state and local taxes, funding essential services such as public school teachers, firefighters and police officers. This sector also creates a measurable impact across multiple industries, from manufacturing to financial services.
Shuttering Pure Michigan would not only extinguish a valuable source of tax income, it would also jeopardize the 346,308 Michigan jobs supported by travel and tourism. While the state’s larger attractions may weather the storm, the same cannot be said for smaller destinations across the state. Similarly, visitors’ awareness of Detroit’s revitalization — a story Pure Michigan has so effectively told to a national audience — could be threatened if promotion is cut. As a new generation of workers, companies and manufacturers reshape the city into a lively, diverse destination, it’s never been more important to promote Detroit to visitors and investors.
And Pure Michigan’s marketing extends beyond tourism. Pure Michigan’s campaigns are seen by business owners who want to invest in a state that is thriving and full of potential. State leaders wisely understood the power of Pure Michigan and created the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) using Pure Michigan’s popular branding. The expansion of Pure Michigan led to branding partnerships with global names like Coca-Cola, as well as regional companies like Hudsonville Ice Cream. These companies invested their money in Michigan because they believed in the Pure Michigan brand and the power that it has to draw visitors from near and far.
While some elected officials scoff at tourism promotion and believe visitors will keep flocking to Michigan without the efforts of a destination marketing organization, a wealth of evidence proves the opposite is true. In 1993, Colorado became an unfortunate case study when it eliminated its tourism promotion budget. In just two years, Colorado’s domestic market share plummeted 30%, representing a loss of more than $1.4 billion in annual tourism revenue. It wasn’t until 2000 that Colorado, after reeling from the losses, reinstated its travel promotion budget — and even then, it took 21 years to reach the market position it had prior to slashing its funding.
We understand the budget challenges in Lansing, but it simply doesn’t make sense to slash a program that is an answer to the very revenue problem state leaders are trying to solve. With hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars at stake, killing Pure Michigan is not a gamble the state can afford.
Roger Dow is president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. Chris Rowley is president of the Michigan Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus.