GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — When families lose one of their sources of income, they get together around the dinner table and discuss what's next. The 2020 Pure Michigan Governor's Conference for Tourism serves as sort of a dinner table for a family of Michiganders that relies on tourism to support their communities.
Around 500 travel professionals from around the state are at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel this week ahead of the spring and summer seasons, which are some of their busiest times of the year.
"There are a lot of things for the tourism industry to be concerned about," said Dave Lorenz who serves as the Vice President of Travel Michigan, the organization that oversees Pure Michigan.
During a dispute with the Republican-led legislature over road funding last fall, Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer vetoed funding for a number of things including the Pure Michigan campaign. She recently proposed a $15 million budget for Pure Michigan starting next year, but that's still less than the $36 million the campaign received last year.
Lorenz is optimistic the governor and lawmakers can work together to restore funding to the campaign.
"It looks like it's getting close," he said. "I'm positive they're going to be able to get it done."
In the meantime, Lorenz says the strategy for keeping the campaign afloat changes almost every day.
Taking advantage of unused resources
"In the fourth quarter of last year, we were able to use some money left over from the previous fiscal year," Lorenz said. "We pushed it forward so we were able to finish the fall campaign and start the winter campaign."
But on the first of the year, all advertising stopped except for some pre-paid spots. Other states started ramping up their advertising campaigns to try to get a slice of the tourism pie.
Working with vendors
Miles Media operates Michigan.org, and the company has agreed to keep the website online, even though a lack of advertising has led to a dramatic drop in visits. The website was once the top state tourism site in the country, and it has lost that distinction since Pure Michigan lost funding.
"We're working with our other vendors who are doing their best to help us keep Pure Michigan out there to the degree that we can, understanding that they may never get paid for that," Lorenz said.
"That's awesome for them to be able to take that chance and to try to help us out. But eventually, those assets will be gone as well if we can't fund them."
Focusing on innovation
Pure Michigan is also using social media to reach potential visitors and they're getting creative in their mission to keep the brand out there.
"When you are literally operating without a budget, you find new and innovative ways to try and make a positive impact," Lorenz said. "Whatever happens, we'll never give up."
Local communities are working on their own promotional efforts, but they're hurting too because Pure Michigan can't back them financially.
"This is about real people, real jobs, real lives, real families. This is not just some esoteric political argument. We're going to keep working as hard as we can," Lorenz said.
"If we get funding - when we get funding, we're going to shock this country. We're going to be out there telling the Pure Michigan story. We're going to continue to be successful."
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