4/16/26 - Conference Focuses On Michigan's Tourism Industry

Pure Michigan - michigan.gov

Leaders gather to celebrate tourism in the state of Michigan and those individuals, organizations and communities that work hard to welcome visitors.

KALAMAZOO, Mich - (Press Release) -  More than 500 tourism leaders, industry representatives, meeting planners and economic development professionals from across Michigan gathered in Kalamazoo April 9-11 for the 2024 Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism. As part of the programming, attendees participated in sessions focused on the latest industry trends and best practices, workforce development, the growing impact of sports tourism in Michigan, and opportunities to make travel more accessible and inclusive for a diverse range of travelers, among other educational opportunities.

“Michigan’s tourism industry creates opportunity for small businesses, drives economic growth in communities large and small, and supports hundreds of thousands of Michigan jobs,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer. “As the industry gathers in Kalamazoo this week to honor and recognize award-winning individuals, businesses and destinations, I encourage everyone to visit our world-class parks, Great Lakes dunes and beaches, thousands of miles of trails, vibrant cities and charming downtowns this spring and summer to experience first-hand why Michigan is the country’s best location to live, work and discover truly unique travel experiences and adventures.”

During the conference, travel industry leaders recognized top hospitality individuals, businesses, and organizations for their contributions to Michigan’s tourism industry through the Governor’s Awards for Innovative Tourism Collaboration. Also announced during this week’s programming were the latest communities and trails to receive a Pure Michigan Trail Town or Pure Michigan Trail designation. This year’s conference also included the release of 2023 Pure Michigan advertising campaign performance data highlighting the positive impact of the award-winning campaign on Michigan’s overall economy.


TICOM President Kim Corcoran (far left) with honorees for the 2024 Governor's Awards for Innovative Tourism Collaboration. Photo credit: Pure Michigan.

2024 Governor’s Awards for Innovative Tourism Collaboration

Presented by Tourism Industry Coalition of Michigan (TICOM) President, Kim Corcoran, the Governor’s Awards for Innovative Tourism Collaboration were created in 2009 to elevate the status of Michigan’s tourism industry and to promote innovative collaboration as an effective, efficient, and creative operating principle for the industry.


  • The Award for Education and Training Collaboration was presented to Savor and Soar Hospitality Summit.

Savor and Soar Hospitality Tourism Summit took place on November 9, 2023, at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids. The event immersed greater Grand Rapids area high school students into the world of hospitality. The morning portion of the summit offered a behind the scenes look at the process of hosting a dinner gathering for hundreds of people, toured the commercial kitchen and learned from industry leaders during the panel discussions. The evening consisted of a formal dinner for all participating students, their adult chaperones, and members of the industry. Students experienced the process of food preparation, operating a commercial kitchen, servicing these types of events, and then enjoyed the food that came from that process.


  • The Marketing/Promotion Collaboration Award went to Mt. Pleasant Area CVB.

Through collaboration, the Mt. Pleasant Area CVB and Soaring Eagle Casino Resort have cultivated a successful partnership with their Casino Concert Partnership, drawing thousands to the area's summer concerts. Through innovative initiatives like the "Mt. Pleasant Experience Package," QR code promotions, and expanded advertising avenues, the partnership has driven tourism, bolstered local businesses, and engaged community organizations like Central Michigan University Athletics. This collaboration showcases Mt. Pleasant as a premier destination, fostering mutual benefit and continued growth.


  • The Award for Experience Development Collaboration was presented to the Houghton Lake Area Tourism Bureau.

The Houghton Lake Area Tourism Bureau (HLATB) embarked on an innovative geocaching project, establishing the Ogemaw Roscommon Bureaus GeoTour (O R B GeoTour) through collaboration with the West Branch Visitors Bureau (WBVB) and the Michigan Geocaching Organization (MiGO). The project received funding from the Roscommon County Economic Development Corporation (RCEDC) and involved extensive community engagement, including students painting cache containers. The GeoTour's success is evident in its widespread appeal, attracting visitors from across the U.S. and abroad, boosting local tourism, and receiving acclaim for its creative caches and community involvement. This collaboration exemplifies effective tourism marketing and unique experiential tourism offerings.


  • The Non-Traditional Collaboration Award was presented to Battle Creek Unlimited and the Calhoun County Visitors Bureau.

The Battle Creek DoubleTree Hotel Renovation Project is a transformative endeavor revitalizing downtown Battle Creek. Led by Battle Creek Unlimited (BCU), it exemplifies innovative collaboration between public and private sectors. The project restores the vacant McCamly Hotel, now the Battle Creek DoubleTree Hotel by Hilton, through diverse funding sources totaling nearly $60 million. The renovation enhances the hotel's competitiveness, spurring economic growth, job creation, and creating a sense of place. It pioneers a teaching hotel model, fostering local talent and addressing poverty. The project's multifaceted approach heralds a new era of prosperity for Battle Creek.


2024 Legacy Award: Janet Korn, Experience Grand Rapids

The annual Legacy Award honors leaders and visionaries in the Michigan tourism industry and is presented to a person or organization that has positively impacted the industry in a transformative way, either during a lifetime of achievement or during the past year.

For more than 30 years of service to Michigan's travel and tourism industry, Janet Korn has built a legacy of creativity, collaboration and community. Since joining Experience Grand Rapids in 1995, Janet has continually pushed the organization forward, developing one of the Midwest's most successful destination marketing operations and helping to evolve the Grand Rapids destination brand by leaps and bounds.

As Experience Grand Rapids' Senior Vice President, Janet works closely with local industry partners and community leaders to advance issues that impact visitor satisfaction and resident quality of life. She has also lent her time and talents to statewide industry associations, helping amplify their voices as much as she has Experience Grand Rapids.

Pure Award: Edsel and Elenor Ford House

The Pure Award is designed to honor tourism sites, attractions and organizations who are working to preserve and protect our cultural, historical, and environmental sites that are so widely recognized around the globe.

This year’s honoree is Ford House, the historic home of Edsel and Elenor Ford. Designated as a National Historic Site, the estate on Lake St. Clair provides a cultural and architectural hub for visitors. In partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Ford  House received a federal grant for restoring and protecting the natural habitats of the property and rehabilitating one mile of Lake St. Clair coastline. This restoration work will reduce the impact of erosion, minimize pollution runoff and increase public accessibility to the waterfront for educational and recreational activities. The project was recognized by NOAA as one of Michigan’s top three priority coastline restoration projects, demonstrating Ford House’s continued commitment to environmental stewardship and architectural tourism in Michigan.


Stories of Inspiration

The awards presentation also included special recognition for five “Stories of Inspiration,” designed to honor individuals and businesses who have made unique and lasting contributions to their respective communities and to Michigan’s travel and hospitality industries.


Honorees for 2024 included Ken and Wilda Hopper of Bird’s Eye Adventures and Bird’s Eye Outfitters in the Eastern Upper Peninsula, Jenny Cook of the Michigan Horse Trails AssociationCosta Papista of the Flint City BucksTiffany Blackman of Bread & Basket in Battle Creek, and Andy Havemeier of Hall Street Bakery and Wealthy Street Bakery in Grand Rapids.


“This year’s best in tourism awards honor individuals, attractions and destinations who go above and beyond to create truly memorable experiences for our visitors,” said Kelly Wolgamott, interim Vice President of Travel Michigan, part of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. “We are proud to continue the tradition of recognizing our partners and their passion, dedication, and collaboration, which are critical to the success of Michigan’s travel and tourism industry.”


Pure Michigan Trails and Trail Towns

Each year, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Pure Michigan spotlight some of the state’s best trails and trail destinations through the Pure Michigan Trails and Pure Michigan Trail Towns designation program. Designed to help boost Michigan’s position as the “Trails State,” the program provides recognition to locations that represent some of Michigan’s best trail experiences.


2024 Pure Michigan Trail:


  • Highbanks Trail – Built in 2001, the Highbanks Trail provides year-round access to the bluffs of the Au Sable River and offers users some of the best and most dramatic views of the diverse natural landscape. Hikers, snowshoers, and skiers enjoy amazing views of the Au Sable River valley that nearly reach to the shores of Lake Huron. The entire 7-mile trail traverses from Iargo Springs to Sawmill Point, where the U.S. Forest Service maintains 17 primitive campsites and a boat launch. Near Sawmill Point, visitors can use the trail to access Lumberman’s Monument, where visitors can learn about Michigan’s iconic logging industry, climb through a log jam, use a peavey hook, and cut a wooden cookie with a cross-cut saw. With all the amenities and support of the local community and federal government, the Highbanks Trail is a picture-perfect example of a Pure Michigan Trail.


2024 Pure Michigan Trail Towns:


  • Lansing – Michigan’s Capital City has a regional trail network of 30+ miles of trails that serve as a popular destination for recreation and social activities. Trail users can walk, run, bike, or paddle their way around as they experience a wide range of scenery, from dense forest and wildlife to downtown city treasures. Outside of Lansing proper, the trails connect schools and businesses, providing a safe recreation and transportation tool for residents and visitors. These trails connect several communities in the area with a diverse array of cultural histories, including the Nokomis Cultural Heritage Center, an educational center which preserves Anishinaabe history, arts and culture of the Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi nations. The network continues to the north toward Dewitt, to the south toward Delhi Township, and west toward Delta Township. These connections are integral parts of the trail system, providing a range of opportunities to explore the businesses and communities through which they traverse.


  • Milford – The Village of Milford offers residents and visitors alike access to a wide variety of trail options including mountain bike trails, hiking and multi-use trails, equestrian trails, and water trails. The network of trails connects Milford’s quaint and vibrant downtown to local and county parks, Kensington Metropark, Proud Lake Recreation Area, and Island Lake Recreation Area. The nearby Michigan Air Line Trail and the Huron Valley Trail offer many miles of additional trails. The village provides easy access to the Huron River National Water Trail, a 104-mile inland paddling trail that connects people to the river’s natural environment, its history, and other local communities. As a regional destination for mountain bikers, the local mountain bike trails host multiple events throughout the year, including the Milford Bike Fest and Trail Challenge. The village has a long history of trail support, planning, and development and has served as a destination location for outdoor enthusiasts to live, work, and recreate.


  • Oscoda – The Oscoda area provides residents and visitors access to hundreds of miles of hiking, biking, paddling, equestrian, snowmobile, and ORV trails. There has been long-lasting support for trails in the area from the local, state, and federal levels. The love of the outdoors is woven into the fabric of the community, and the trail systems and their resulting economic impact to local businesses and lodging facilities is an integral part of the culture and vitality of the area. With access to more than 35,000 acres of unique landscapes, trail users traverse from coastal sand dunes to towering pines and hardwoods; it’s a naturalist’s dream. This ideal combination of diverse outdoor recreational opportunities along with friendly, helpful, and unique businesses and accommodations makes Oscoda a destination for travelers from around the globe.


“The Pure Michigan Trail Town program recognizes Michigan communities that have worked hard to support and advocate for trails and trails users while providing safe, accessible recreational experiences year-round,” said DNR State Trails Coordinator Tim Novak. “This year’s towns and trails have broad community support and continue to invest in their local trail systems. They understand and support the economic and social impacts of trails and how important they are to improving quality of life for residents and visitors. That is why we are proud to designate them as Pure Michigan recipients.”


The trails and towns that receive this designation are identified as among the best of the best in the state of Michigan, promoting healthy lifestyles, conserving natural resources, and providing a catalyst for economic activity in their communities.


Mike Busley, President and Co-founder of Grand Traverse Pie Company, and Kelly Wolgamott, interim Vice President of Travel Michigan. Photo credit: Pure Michigan.

A Partnership Celebrating the “Fruits of Summer”

Also announced at the conference, Pure Michigan is teaming up with Grand Traverse Pie Company to celebrate the fruits of summer. The newest pie addition to the menu at Grand Traverse Pie Company is the Pure Michigan Fruits of Summer Pie made with Michigan grown cherries and blueberries topped with oatmeal, cinnamon and brown sugar crumb topping. Each Pure Michigan ‘Fruits of Summer Pie’ is handmade one-by-one with real Rubel Michigan Blueberries grown at True Blue Farms in Southwest Michigan and Montmorency Michigan Cherries grown by the Sayler family in Williamsburg, near Traverse City, Michigan.


“We’re thrilled to partner with Grand Traverse Pie Company to highlight Michigan farmers and our state’s rich agricultural diversity,” said Wolgamott. “Bringing the flavors of Michigan-grown cherries and blueberries together in one Michigan-made pie creates a delicious Pure Michigan pairing that is the perfect way to celebrate the fruits of summer.”


The partnership also provides support to MI Kids Matter, a resource from the Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement, and Potential Office of Great Start. The Pure Michigan Fruits of Summer Pie will be available beginning May 6 at Grand Traverse Pie locations, online at http://www.GTPie.com and in over 100 supermarkets across the state.


Kelly Wolgamott, interim Vice President of Travel Michigan. Photo credit: Pure Michigan.

Impact of the Pure Michigan Campaign

The results of the 2024 SMARInsights Advertising Effectiveness Research for Pure Michigan report were also released at the conference. In 2023, advertising influenced more than 1.5 million leisure trips to Michigan from national, regional and in-state markets targeted by the Pure Michigan campaign. Ad-influenced visitors to the state spent more than $2.5 billion in 2023, averaging more than $1,600 per trip and generating more than $156 million in state tax revenue. In consideration of the $16.9 million spent on advertising in 2023, Michigan had a Return on Investment (ROI) of $9.21 in state tax revenue for each $1 invested.


“Conducting research into the impact of campaign at a national and regional level allows us to evaluate the effectiveness of our campaign strategy to inspire leisure travel in Michigan,” Wolgamott said. "These numbers show that the Pure Michigan campaign continues to influence travel to and within the state, and remains a key component of statewide efforts to showcase Michigan as the country’s top four-season location to live, work and discover truly unique travel experiences.”


Ad-influenced visitation to Michigan in 2023 saw a return to pre-pandemic levels following a spike in summer and fall travel in 2022 driven by pent-up demand as the travel industry emerged from a period of soft demand in 2020 and 2021. The $3.1 billion in ad-influenced visitor spending in 2022 is the largest on record since SMARInsights began evaluating MEDC campaigns in 2018.


“Results for the 2023 campaign are on par with pre-pandemic numbers and are aligned with national trends,” added Wolgamott. “2023 marks a return to more traditional travel patterns, and strong growth in top-of-mind awareness among travelers continues to demonstrate the strength and effectiveness of the Pure Michigan campaign.”


The report showed the campaign performing well in communicating key messages and is also having a positive influence on the Michigan trip experience, as evidenced by longer, more active trips with more social sharing among those aware of the ads.


Included in the research findings announced at the conference were results of a new study by Longwoods International on the “halo effect” of the Pure Michigan campaign. The study sought to measure the impact of advertising awareness and recent visitation on Michigan’s economic development image.


The study found that the Pure Michigan campaign significantly lifted Michigan’s reputation in primary out-of-state markets as a place to live, work, and study. Further, people visiting Michigan who are aware of the Pure Michigan campaign are even more likely to rate Michigan highly as a place to invest their time, careers, and futures.


For travelers to Michigan who are aware of Pure Michigan campaign advertisements:


  • 58% strongly agree that Michigan is a "good place to live" compared to 26% of those who are unaware of Pure Michigan advertisements and have not traveled to Michigan in the past two years
  • 66% strongly agree Michigan is a "good place to attend college/trade school" compared to 27% of ad-unaware and nonvisitors
  • 52% and 49% (respectively) strongly agree it is a “good place to start a career or business” compared to 24% and 23% who are ad-unaware and nonvisitors
  • 73% strongly agreed Michigan is a “place with exciting outdoor activities to enjoy” compared to just 33% who were ad-unaware and nonvisitors

“The Pure Michigan campaign is introducing out-of-state visitors to the world-class destinations and experiences that are available here in Michigan,” said Wolgamott. “So, it’s no surprise that travelers who are aware of the campaign and have recently visited the state agree it is also a great place to live, work and get an education.”

About Michigan Economic Development Corporation

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation is the state’s marketing arm and lead advocate for business and community development with the focus on growing Michigan’s economy.  For more information on the MEDC and our initiatives, visit www.MichiganBusiness.org.  For Pure Michigan® tourism information, your trip begins at www.michigan.org. Join the conversation on FacebookInstagramPinterest, and X (formerly Twitter).


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