Pure Michigan campaign ads are back to promote state's winter travel spots

Carol Cain
Detroit Free Press Business Columnist
Tubbing at Treetop Resort in Gaylord, Michigan.

With temperatures dropping as winter takes hold, the state has launched a new $2.3 million Pure Michigan national ad campaign embracing the state's heritage as a Winter Wonderland as it highlights destinations Up North to enjoy cool experiences. 

Dave Lorenz, vice president of Travel Michigan, which is part of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, said the campaign will appeal to folks looking for winter travel locations. 

He’s feeling a bit more bullish after some tough times brought on by the pandemic. Despite recent unpredictable prices of such things as gasoline, which has been up and down, he said in an interview that he believes the time is right to stand up and raise the flag on behalf of the state. 

"Michigan is proud to be known as the ideal four-season travel destination," he said. "Outdoor enthusiasts and families alike are preparing and planning for a true Michigan winter. Whether your activities are skiing, snowmobiling, visiting vibrant downtowns, ice fishing, ice climbing or more, our message is clear: Michigan is your winter playground."

Tourism is the state’s third largest industry and had been responsible for $27.5 billion in economic impact each year — that is, pre-COVID — including $2.8 billion in state and local taxes, according to MEDC.  The industry is still in recovery mode. 

The new campaign marks Pure Michigan's return to national TV since the pandemic began with ads running on both the Hallmark Channel and its Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel. Ads will also run on other streaming services. Besides Michigan residents, the campaign is targeting residents of Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Fort Wayne, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, South Bend and Toledo, Ohio, through local TV channels.

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Certainly Michigan’s wintertime calling cards are impressive as the state is home to more than 6,500 miles of snowmobile trails, 3,000 miles of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails and is second in the nation for ski areas, boasting everything from family-friendly beginner runs to the tallest vertical drop in the Midwest at Mount Bohemia in the Upper Peninsula.  

The winter tourism season in Michigan generated  $2.9 billion in spending in 2021, according to TravelUSA. The new campaign includes two spots focusing on love of winter and winter activities. 

Lorenz has been director of Travel Michigan since 2015 and worked there when the award-winning Pure Michigan campaign started in 2006. Partnering with them in the newest marketing effort is Traverse City, Indian River, Michigan’s Apple Committee, Michigan Snowsports Industry Association, and the cities of Marquette and Charlevoix. 

Here are some other things Lorenz and I talked about regarding tourism, which remains our third largest industry after manufacturing and agriculture. His answers have been edited for length. 

QUESTION: Describe the state of tourism in Michigan right now? 

ANSWER: We are in recovery mode with people eager to travel to explore new places and meet new people. But we still have challenges with fewer staff returning to work than we would like. But the situation is starting to improve as workers are starting to return. Another issue is the higher cost of providing service to travelers and the need to pass those costs on to them, which has dampened potential growth. But travelers seem to understand why costs have increased and appreciate the value of travel as a temporary escape from reality and challenges.    

Dave Lorenz, vice president of Travel Michigan,  at Presque Isle Park in Marquette, shown with Quentin Messer Jr., CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., as they took a break from meetings in February for some fat tire biking.

Q: How did our summer tourism season go? 

A: It’s too early to tell, but it appears people wanted to travel so much they endured the higher costs of summertime travel as they shifted their budget to allow for that travel. And they are returning to city experiences including places like Detroit as part of their travel experience for culture, food, sports. 

Q: What’s your expectation for the winter season? 

A: I think the pandemic made Michiganders more appreciative of living in a four-season environment. They discovered that "cold can be cool," fun and invigorating. We are always dependent on the weather for outdoors enthusiasts so it was good that we had snow early on downstate. We need to remind those same people in larger population areas of Michigan that there’s still snow Up North, even if they don’t see it in their backyard. 

Q: How have gas prices impacted travel? 

A: High gas prices and other inflationary pressures cut into our savings. This caused travelers to prioritize experience over the purchase of consumer goods and also hurt retail. It also has required people to make a choice between things and experience.  That’s never good for the economy, but the pandemic has created more of a "need to travel" attitude too — which is good for the travel sector.    

Q: How is tourism doing today versus pre-pandemic? 

A: We are getting back to 2019 travel spending levels but volume is still down — because of higher costs.  We still have not returned to that $27 billion economic impact that tourism has in our state. But I expect we’ll get to that level next year, provided there’s no additional world turmoil or other things that arise. 

Q: Anything else to mention? 

A: Yes, it’s important to stress that we are supporting “support local." We are in a consumer-driven economy so every dollar we spend here through eating, shopping and travel is like putting money (and jobs) in our back pocket. Small businesses remain an important economic engine. Not only are they the biggest job creators but they give back to communities in many ways. 

Contact Carol Cain: 248-355-7126 or She is senior producer/host of “Michigan Matters,” which airs 8 a.m. Sundays on CBS Detroit. See Gregory Guidice of Elite Detection K9, Dr. James Schwarz, Dr Jamii Hitchcock, Jennifer Solden and  her daughter Jess, and Lisa Zang on this Sunday’s show which talks about man’s best friend helping out.