Long before the current and very successful Pure Michigan tourism advertising campaign, Michigan touted its tourism opportunities with forward thinking efforts, some of which hadn't been tried yet elsewhere in the country. Several states followed in the footsteps of some of these ideas long before advertising outlets like the internet, television, and radio were available.

Just over a century ago, the Michigan Tourism and Resort Association was formed. On May 7, 1917, delegates representing all of the state's counties came together in Grand Rapids to form the MTRA. It was later renamed the West Michigan Tourism Association and exists to this day. The purpose of the new non-profit association was to make known to travelers everywhere the attractions of Michigan. In the early 1920s, the annual West Michigan Vacation Directory made its debut. The publication was the first outlet to showcase what Michigan had to offer for tourists.

In 1929, the first out of state office to promote Michigan tourism opened in Chicago. Hugh J. Gray originated the idea of maintaining out-of-state offices to help direct tourism into Michigan. It was successful as over 5,500 people visited the office in the first few months it was open and many states followed the idea.

The very first Highway Travel Information center in the Unites States opened on May 4, 1935 on US-12 at New Buffalo in Berrien County. The structure was built by the Michigan State Highway Department (now M-DOT) to welcome motorists entering from Indiana. Similar travel centers soon began popping up across the nation and there are several hundred still in existence today.

Specific television and radio advertising campaigns to promote tourism in Michigan began in the 1970s. The 'Say Yes! To Michigan' campaign was unveiled in 1970. Besides the commercials, t-shirts, bumper stickers, coffee mugs and other items were decorated with the logo similar to the Michigan swag that is available everywhere today, many featuring our unique geography. The commercials ran in the 1970s and 1980s with a familiar tune and very different feel than the soothing Pure Michigan commercials we see and hear today.

In the late 1990s, The Yes! Michigan campaign ended and what was often considered a less than stellar replacement called "Great Lakes Great Times" emerged. The message focused on showing the visitor all the activities Michigan had to offer, but some felt it lacked a sense of what it really feels like to be in Michigan. The campaign was launched May 1, 1997 by Travel Michigan and resulted in more than 500,000 individuals requesting Michigan tourism information according to a 1998 article by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Getty Images/Stock Photo
Getty Images/iStockphoto - Great Lakes Great Times Michigan Welcome Sign

It is believed that the first time the words "Pure Michigan" were used in connection to tourism was a simple scribble on a sheet of lined notebook paper. In 2006, Travel Michigan was looking for a new strategy as Michigan's economy was tanking. One pitched slogan was "Find Your True North", but the group felt it would unintentionally draw focus to only northern destinations in the state. The group began discussing water and then more specifically purity. Mark Lantz, who worked at and advertising agency in Detroit, had been asked to help Travel Michigan with a new tourism campaign. He remembered the words he had scribbled on the sheet of paper. He said the two words aloud and the campaign was born.

The current Pure Michigan campaign was launched regionally in 2006 and then nationally in 2010. The campaign had instant success and has won, and continues to win, several national awards related to advertising and tourism marketing. In 2010, Pure Michigan was ranked among the top 10 all-time best travel campaigns by Forbes. In 2014, Michigan lodged a record number of visitors, as well as record direct spending on tourism from both state residents and out-of-state visitors. With the massive success of Pure Michigan, is it possible that we now have a campaign that will stick forever?

Pure Michigan Welcome Sign
Google Maps - Pure Michigan Welcome Sign

If you want to take a deeper look at the history of Michigan tourism, check out this timeline landscape posted on the Promote Michigan website. It was created in 2012 by Michigan State University's Department of Community, Agriculture, Recreation & Resource. Alyssa Peterson and Dr. Sarah Nicholls developed the timeline and it includes pictures and interesting state tourism history leading up to 'Pure Michigan'.

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