About 50 years ago, an Illinois senator reportedly quipped, "A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money."
In 2012, in the world of Michigan tourism, the days of "a billion here" and "billion there" have apparently arrived.
A newly released study of the impact of the state's famous Pure Michigan ad campaign says that little more than $14 million in additional advertising prompted more than 3 million additional trips to the state by visitors -- trips that Longwoods International estimates generated a hair under $1 billion in 2011.
The report was released during a three-day conference on tourism that ended Tuesday
"I am surprised. I think everyone in the industry was surprised (at the size of the gain)," said Michigan State University professor Dan McCole, who studies the industry. "I don't mean that in a challenging way. ... I know it is hard to estimate (traveler) spending, but it seems like there is a real increase in out-of-state visitors. One of the things we keep hearing (from tourist businesses) is about the number of out-of-state customers, out-of-state license plates."
The survey analyzed the Pure Michigan spending aimed at regional (think Midwest) markets and national (primarily South) markets.
In the regional arena, Longwoods reported that the Pure Michigan ad buy of $3.8 million sparked 2 million additional trips with $532 million in spending. That spending generated $37 million in state taxes, for a rough return of $10 in public money for each public dollar spent on the campaign.
In the national market, the advertising budget of $10.5 million is credited with 1.2 million additional trips, generating $466 million in spending -- and $33 million in state taxes. That's roughly a 3 to 1 payoff.
“We are only in our fourth year of national advertising, but we are making progress toward our goal of making Michigan one of America’s most popular summer vacation destinations,” said George Zimmermann in a statement from Travel Michigan, which is part of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Tourism is considered a $17 billion industry in Michigan.
A staffer at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, an entity long critical of the Pure Michigan effort, countered, saying, " The consulting firm, which has an incentive to find a high return, has apparently never seen a tourism campaign it does not like. ... Longwoods always finds a high return on every dollar invested in tourism."
Funding for Pure Michigan has had a roller-coaster existence with the Legislature.
McCole said that the Longwoods survey highlights again Michigan's huge advantage when it comes to natural splendor: "3,200 miles of coastline, sandy beaches, lighthouses." The targeting of potential visitors from the South and the increasing interest by tourists in agricultural attractions -- locally grown food, wineries, breweries -- are helping Michigan.
"This is really good news," said McCole, who helps craft an annual tourism forecast from MSU. The 2012 edition projects a 3 percent bump up in travel volume and a 6 percent increase in travel spending.
Senior Editor Derek Melot joined Bridge Magazine in 2011 after serving as an assistant editorial page editor, columnist and reporter at the Lansing State Journal, where he covered state and local issues extensively, earning awards from the Associated Press and Michigan Press Association. The Oklahoma native moved to Michigan in 1999.