This year marks the 10th anniversary of Michigan’s tourism promotion campaign known as Pure Michigan. It was in May of 2006 when the first taxpayer-funded commercials ran featuring voiceovers by popular Michigan actor Tim Allen.[*] Similar commercials hit national media in 2009.[†] Over that time, the state has spent $261 million on efforts to promote the Michigan “brand” and make the state a travel destination.
No matter the popularity of these types of programs, taxpayers and policymakers should ask how effective this spending is. This money could potentially be put to more effective use that would generate better economic returns for state residents, such as for improved roads, public infrastructure or even an across-the-board reduction in Michigan’s personal income tax. The aim of this study is to assess the effectiveness of state-funded tourism promotion.
This type of analysis is necessary because the state’s effort to measure the impact of the Pure Michigan program is inadequate. Each year the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the state’s main economic development operative, contracts with a company to produce a report analyzing the economic returns of its taxpayer-funded tourism promotion effort. And each year, this company reports an enormous “return on investment” from this spending. But there are several reasons to view these findings with skepticism.
The MEDC has an incentive to puff up its claims of success. The very survival of the department — and the jobs of its employees — relies on the appearance that its efforts create more employment and wealth for Michigan residents. In fact, when determining which firm to hire to conduct annanalysis of its tourism promotion program, MEDC correspondence indicates that department officials purposely sought out a firm that would help justify spending on tourism promotion.
To generate a return on investment figure for its tourism promotion program, the MEDC uses Longwoods International. The MEDC has hired this company for several consecutive years on a no-bid basis. Longwoods’ analysis of the 2015 Pure Michigan advertising campaign claims that for every $1 invested in out-of-state advertising, the state collects $7.67 in new taxes. This is up from a $6.87 return for the 2014 campaign. In fact, the ROI for Pure Michigan spending, according to Longwoods, has steadily increased for nine consecutive years, growing from $2.11 in 2006 to $7.67 in 2015, a 264 percent increase.[‡] It’s as if there’s no limit to the investment return of state-funded tourism advertising.
Unfortunately, the work that Longwoods does for the state is not subject to any type of review or third-party validation, largely because Longwoods maintains that its method for deriving these
[*]Emily Guerrant, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, email correspondence with Michael LaFaive, Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Nov. 29, 2015.
[†]For an example, see: “A Simple Sunrise” at https://goo.gl/ JP7VTq; Michelle Begnoche, “Zimmermann Named State Tourism Director of the Year,” (Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Aug. 29, 2011), https://perma.cc/4VES-X5VD.
[‡]“Michigan 2015 Tourism Advertising Evaluation and Image Study” (Longwoods International, April 2016), 60, https://perma. cc/P85QRGYS.