How to Win Visitors | Business


ACME — Americans may travel less in 2019 than they did last year, Erin Francis-Cummings told hundreds of travel experts gathered in Acme for the Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism.

She works for research firm Destination Analysts, which has contracted with more than 170 travel industry clients. The company’s latest survey, titled “The State of the American Traveler,” suggests that travel businesses across the nation could see a dip in activity in 2019.

Leisure travel optimism for 2019, as measured by survey respondents’ expectations of spending on travel, is low. Just 32.2 percent of Americans surveyed by Destination Analysts expect to spend more on travel in 2019 than they did in 2018, Francis-Cummings said. About 57.1 percent expect to spend less on travel this year.

Despite those scaled-back 2019 travel plans, other survey responses reveal some good news for Michigan travel professionals.

“They’re still holding onto their beach destinations,” Francis-Cummings, keynote speaker at the three-day conference, said of Americans.

Michigan has more than 3,000 miles of shoreline, much of it sandy beaches. That should be reason for Americans to visit Michigan.

Beaches frequently are touted by the Pure Michigan advertising campaign. But the industry apparently needs to shout that message louder, at least in some corners of the nation.

Francis-Cummings screened a series of video interviews showing a handful of Americans’ thoughts about Michigan.

“When I think of Michigan, I think of the Great Lakes and Detroit,” one person said in the video. “It doesn’t have a very strong destination image.”

Other speakers in the video talked about their perception of Michigan as a place of snow and cold. Several seemed unable to visualize any image of Michigan beyond the word “Detroit.”

The keynote presentation highlighted the fact that different generations seek different things when they travel.

“Generation Z really loves Los Angeles and New York,” Francis-Cummings said of young travelers born after 1995. “Baby Boomers really love Las Vegas.”

Young travelers also are attracted to Denver and Seattle, she said, while older travelers like New Orleans and San Francisco.

Between scheduled conference sessions, attendees wandered next door to a room filled with exhibitors. The space was filled with booths touting travel publications, hotels, web design services, window cleaning, the Detroit Zoo, pest control, the Detroit Convention & Visitors Bureau, food service, mattresses, AAA, and heating and cooling equipment.

Exhibitor Mike DeTavernier worked the Universal Laundry Machinery booth.

“Next week, we’ll be going to a fire chief’s show,” he said. “But this is the big one for us.”

Universal Laundry Machinery, based in Westland, sells in a territory that covers the entire state — except a portion of the western Upper Peninsula. The company does between $3 and $5 million in business each year, DeTavernier said. It attends four or five trade shows a year primarily to build relationships. Most commercial clients use their laundry machines 12 or 16 hours a day, he said, but the machines can last 10 or 15 years before they need to be replaced.

Destination Analysts’ research revealed that people who seek out national parks are a special breed of traveler.

“A large number of visitors who want to come to Michigan have visited a national park in the last 12 months,” said Francis-Cummings.

“What sets national park travelers apart is their cultural interest,” she said. “They’re also pretty into food. We think they are hyper-informed travelers.”

Midwest residents show the highest level of interest in visiting Michigan — a survey result that surprised no one in the Acme audience.

“You have a lot interest in the Southeast as well,” said Francis-Cummings. “You’re getting a lot of interest from the millennials.”

Other scheduled sessions addressed networking, use of social media to market travel destinations, crisis management, and equitable and inclusive spaces.

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