Is the Pure Michigan campaign reaching a saturation point in the Midwest?

Although the glistening ad campaign drew 2.3 million new visitors from the Great Lakes region last year, the “return on investment” — how many visitor dollars you get versus how much you spend on the ads to get them — is falling.

The state took in $8.06 in visitor spending and taxes for every regional ad dollar spent in 2012 compared to $9.85 in 2011, new state data show.

It represents a slight weakness in a campaign whose returns have been only up, up, up since the slogan was introduced in 2006.

This morning, only good news was mentioned at the upbeat Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism at the Renaissance Center in Detroit, where hundreds of tourism industry officials and business owners have gathered for three days of strategizing and networking.

“I just think we have tourism momentum, and that’s a beautiful thing,” George Zimmermann, vice president of Travel Michigan, said in an opening session.

He pointed out the positives — Pure Michigan just launched its spring/summer, $13 million national cable TV advertising blitz that will air Pure Michigan ads more than 5,000 times. Michigan’s hotel occupancy rate in 2012 was the highest since 2004, a good sign.

When both regional and national (and international) visitors are included, Michigan had 3.8 million new out-of-state visitors last year, spending $1.1 billion, he said.

“What has Pure Michigan done since 2006? It’s generated 4 billion dollars.”

For its regional ad campaign last year, the state spent $5 million on ads, which attracted 2.3 million new visitors. In 2011, it spent just $3.8 million but attracted 2 million new visitors.

The decline in return-on-investment can be attributed to “a range of issues outside of the influence of our campaign or media buy,” said Michelle Begnoche of Travel Michigan today. ” For us, the number of actual trips to Michigan generated and how much those visitors are spending in the state remain the most important data points. And both of those are up nationally as well as regionally in 2012.”

And people do know the brand: 72% of people in the Great Lakes region and 39% of those nationwide are familiar with the Pure Michigan brand, according to travel data research company Longwoods International.

Named as one of the top 6 tourism slogans of all time, Pure Michigan is now being marketed internationally in southwest Ontario, the United Kingdom and Germany. Next year international marketing is set to expand to Asia, and the state tourism web site www.michigan.org may be translated into other languages. A new tourism five-year strategy plan foresees a $50 million budget for tourism marketing by 2017.

The pristine slogan had a brush with ugly politics in January when State officials used the Pure Michigan’s logo in a full page “right to work” advertisement in the Wall Street Journal. That misstep aside, Gov. Rick Snyder likely will get a friendly welcome when he speaks tonight because the Michigan tourism industry considers him a hero who pushed through funding of $25 million a year for tourism marketing.

The rise in the Pure Michigan budget and its glowing results has coincided with an overall improvement in Michigan’s economy and consumer confidence in the past three years.

Whether more spending on the Pure Michigan campaign will yield ever greater returns or plateau, only time will tell.

A broader report on how Michigan tourism overall fared in 2012 (including leisure travel by state residents) will not be available until June, Zimmermann said.

In 2011, total tourism spending in the state was $17.7 billion up slightly from the previous year but still $1 billion down from 2006. In 20111, leisure travelers from outside the state actually spent more money in Michigan ($6.8 billion) than leisure travelers from inside the state ($6.3 billion) or business travelers ($4.6 billion.) In 2011, tourism provided 200,000 jobs in Michigan.

The conference lasts through Tuesday.

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