News Story

No Lockdown On Taxpayer-Funded Tourism Spending

Even though the resort interests that benefit are throttled by COVID restrictions

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation is proceeding with a relaunch of its Pure Michigan advertising campaign, promoting winter tourism even as other state agencies are ordering COVID-related restrictions on leisure activities.

In fact, the state’s COVID website contains a warning (posted since June) that “long distance travel is discouraged (and) travel into Michigan from out of state is not recommended.”

Pure Michigan is supported by a $15 million appropriation in the 2020-21 state budget. Its funding was recently restored after a $35 million subsidy for 2019-20 was cancelled in a budget standoff between Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Legislature.

When the fiscal year 2021 budget was adopted this fall, Travel Michigan executive David Lorenz said the “bulk of the dollars will be used and invested to support the spring and summer marketing campaign as spring and especially summer are our big travel months.”

But on Nov. 14, the MEDC’s top executive, Mark Burton, told the Detroit Free Press that promotional work would get underway sooner as part of a COVID economic recovery agenda.

“The restoration of Pure Michigan funding is certainly an important step towards recovery for our industry and the communities and people who depend upon it. We will do all we can to support our industry by encouraging residents across our state to continue to travel safely through winter,” Burton said.

The following day, Whitmer announced a new round of mandates aimed at stemming a steep rise in reported COVID infections.

“The situation has never been more dire,” she said.

Among the activities curtailed until at least Dec. 8 are those involving entertainment venues, skating rinks (indoor and outdoor) and water parks. Indoor dining at bars and restaurants is also prohibited. Museums and swimming pools can remain open with capacity limits of 30% and 25% respectively. Ski areas (which have often been featured in Pure Michigan ads) are allowed to remain open, but their indoor dining facilities are shuttered, along with saunas and hot tubs.

Indoor gatherings are subject to limits of 10 people from no more than two different households.

MEDC spokesman Otie McKinley confirmed in an email on December 1 that the campaign will be formally relaunched “in the coming weeks focusing on in-state and regional travel advertising.”

“We are focusing our advertising on getting people to travel safely and enjoy the great outdoors,” McKinley said.

Even when Pure Michigan advertising was suspended, the agency “continued to market our state” and promote small business, McKinley said. He cited the publication of a Pure Michigan Travel Guide and the launch of the Support Local campaign “to encourage Michiganders to safely support small businesses.”

Michael LaFaive, the senior fiscal policy analyst at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said, “It doesn’t make sense to relaunch in the winter when we have increasing COVID cases and businesses are being ordered to shut down.”

LaFaive, who has written several analyses of Pure Michigan spending, said, “It doesn’t work. But on its face it would make sense if you’re going to do it you would wait until May 2021 when (travel activity) could be returning to normal.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.