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It's about TIME: Tourism is a key resource to help Mich.

9 May 2007

Michigan is a great state, with unique recreation and entertainment attractions. It also has a loyal and committed residential base that possesses Midwest values and knows how to entertain guests. Though the state's economy has been struggling of late, a struggling economy is by no means a dead economy. Michigan has a tremendous asset that it needs to invest in - tourism. At a time when the state is looking at ways to balance its budget, Michigan's government leaders need to realize that businesses across the state and globe do this every day, quarter, and year. However, balancing a budget does not mean across the board cuts. Rather this means exactly what it says, "balance." For a long time, Michigan's leaders have underfunded the state's tourism promotional advertising budget. At a time when Michigan is looking at ways to improve its financial situation, a group has formed to help shed light on this matter, the Tourism Improving Michigan's Economy coalition (TIME).

The group is led by three of Michigan's top travel and resort industry executives: R.D. "Dan" Musser II, president of the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island; Stephen Kircher, president of eastern operations for Boyne USA Resorts; and Larry Alexander, president and CEO of the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau. In addition, the TIME coalition is supported by members that include: Michigan Hotel, Motel & Resort Association; the Michigan Chamber of Commerce; Michigan Restaurant Association; and Michigan Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus.

TIME's goal is for the Michigan Legislature to increase annual investment in tourism promotion. TIME is asking the Legislature to attract more out-of-state visitors by increasing tourism promotion in states with more vibrant economies without raising taxes, industry fees or other assessments on Michigan residents and tourists. TIME is also hoping to convince the state to establish an annual $30 million promotion budget for Travel Michigan, which is a division of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

On May 2, during a morning capitol press conference, Musser and Kircher were quoted as saying that if Travel Michigan's $5.7 million advertising budget was raised to $30 million, studies show it would generate $60 to $90 million in new sales tax revenue within months.

As a proponent of the regulated casino gaming industry, I am well aware that industry facts can often go unreported or be misunderstood. Therefore, when I looked into the mission of the TIME coalition, I quickly understood the problem. The state of Michigan has not kept pace with the rest of our region when it comes to embracing its tourism industry and using it as a tool to help drive the state's overall economy. In addition to providing a quick kick to an economy, the tourism industry is also a "people skills" industry, and when it adds jobs it gives its workforce social skills that help prepare them to do a host of other jobs in an economy.

From a numbers perspective, Michigan's promotional budget dramatically trails that of other states. Prior to the 2005, $15 million dollar, one-time appropriation made to Travel Michigan by Governor Jennifer Granholm and the Michigan Legislature, the state's promotional budget was significantly below that of most other states. TIME notes that in most years, Travel Michigan's advertising budget has been about $5.7 million, which is the 35th lowest nationwide. When looking at other states one quickly sees the imbalance that is present: Illinois $48 million; Pennsylvania $32 million; West Virginia $23 million; and Wisconsin $13 million.

However, the appropriation of Michigan's precious dollars into an advertising budget is not going to fix the problem alone. Rather, a comprehensive examination must be undertaken by Travel Michigan in order to target and promote areas in Michigan that have a solid community base and which immediately creates a positive tourism environment for visitors from outside of Michigan. If the funds are appropriated in areas that have developed a unique and strong tourism attraction, it will create competition for advertising dollars by other communities and the end result will be positive for Michigan's overall economy.

Let's hope that the TIME coalition is successful and that the dollars are spent wisely and Michigan's tourism hotspots like downtown Detroit's Greektown District, mid-Michigan's Frankenmuth, west-Michigan's Grand Haven, northern-Michigan's Traverse City, and Michigan's crown jewel, Mackinac Island, spur the next great Michigan tourism hotspot. Who knows? It could be Arenac County or New Buffalo, Michigan.

Dave Waddell would like to give a special thanks to Ashley Loveall for her contributions to this column.

David Waddell
David Waddell is an attorney for Regulatory Management Counselors, P.C. (RMC), which assists businesses in navigating the legislative, regulatory and licensing systems governing Michigan’s commercial and tribal casino industries. He is the co-author of The State of Michigan Gaming Law Legal Resource Book and one of the founders of The Michigan Gaming Newsletter.

David Waddell Websites:

www.michigangaming.com
David Waddell
David Waddell is an attorney for Regulatory Management Counselors, P.C. (RMC), which assists businesses in navigating the legislative, regulatory and licensing systems governing Michigan’s commercial and tribal casino industries. He is the co-author of The State of Michigan Gaming Law Legal Resource Book and one of the founders of The Michigan Gaming Newsletter.

David Waddell Websites:

www.michigangaming.com