Michigan State University specialist Sarah Nicholls said tourism spending in the state rose by about 6 percent last year. The hotel sector had its highest occupancy rates since 2000 and visits to high-profile attractions such as national parks jumped, she said.
"We can attribute these positive outcomes in 2012 to a combination of factors, including the warm, dry summer and fall, a continued rebound in consumer confidence, relatively steady gas prices and the continuing influence" of the Pure Michigan initiative, Nicholls said. She and colleague Dan McCole are scheduled to present a tourism forecast for this year today at an industry conference in Detroit.
Nicholls, an associate professor in the Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation and Resource Studies, said the state experienced a ripple effect from glowing reports in national publications and broadcasts. Among them: ABC's "Good Morning America" program's designation of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore "the most beautiful place in America."
Visits to the lakeshore rose 14 percent in 2012, she said. Another popular site, the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, drew 1.9 million visitors — a 25 percent increase.
Nicholls and McCole also credited the Pure Michigan campaign, now entering its eighth year, which they described as one of the nation's top tourism marketing programs. It features video footage of Great Lakes shorelines, trails and other scenic vistas with soothing narration by actor Tim Allen.
Travel Michigan, the state tourism agency, released a consultant's report at the conference that said the campaign drew 3.8 million visitors to the state last year, who spent about $1.1 billion. Michigan took in $5.76 in taxes for every dollar spent on the campaign, it said.
The agency is still calculating the number of all out-of-state residents who visited Michigan in 2012 and won't have a total until June, spokeswoman Michelle Begnoche said. The total in 2011 was nearly 101 million.
If the 2012 total was similar, it would suggest that only a small percentage of visitors came to Michigan specifically because of the campaign. But many others probably were influenced by the ads to some extent, Begnoche said.
The report was produced by Longwoods International, which researches tourism advertising. Senior Vice President Tom Curtis, who oversaw the study, said it was based on an online survey that asked people if they had seen the Michigan ads and plugged the results into a formula the agency uses to determine what factors motivate travel decisions. It distinguishes between people who were attracted specifically by the commercials and those who would have come to Michigan anyway, he said.
Not all the news was positive. The report said visitors from other Great Lakes states paid $8.06 in taxes for every dollar the state spent on ads targeting the region — a decrease from $9.85 in 2011.
George Zimmermann, vice president of Travel Michigan, said it wasn't clear what caused the regional drop-off in return on investment and said it could have been a fluke, since the nationwide return had risen.
"If it becomes a pronounced trend over a long period of time, we'll probably spend more time researching it," he said.
Since the campaign began in 2006, it has been $4.10 for every tax dollar spent, the report said.
Gov. Rick Snyder, whose budget for the 2014 fiscal year proposes boosting spending on Pure Michigan from $25 million to $29 million, said the analysis illustrates its "vast potential" as officials plan to expand the campaign overseas.