Two Northern Michigan Tourism Bureaus Unite for a Regional Approach to Marketing

Traverse City Tourism, northern Michigan’s largest destination marketing organization has formed a merger with the Benzie County Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. Traverse Traveler has worked closely with both communities since our inception. So we’d like to give you some perspective on how this regional approach to marketing affects the hospitality industry in northern Michigan. We’ll talk about how the merger impacts hotels and travelers. And we’ll share some perspective from the local business members of both organizations.

Tourism Bureaus Unite

Let’s Start with a Regional Approach to Marketing

When we first went into business with our little card displays in 2001 one thing was certain. We knew our marketing was going to represent businesses all around Traverse City, including those in Benzie and Leelanau county. While Traverse City had the most hotels—an important factor since our distribution is based in the hotel lobby—some of the best restaurants and attractions to visit lie off the beaten path, in the small towns that surround the city. So we took a regional approach to marketing. We have displays in all three counties and promote businesses all across the area. I think we had the right idea.

Since 2001 we have worked with hotels, restaurants, and attractions across Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, and Antrim county. We’ve learned that travelers who stay in one community are here to enjoy and experience northern Michigan. That itinerary doesn’t stop at the county line. Guests that stay in one town are more than willing to drive 40 minutes to enjoy a fabulous meal, explore our parks and beaches, shop for souvenirs and wander through our historic towns. But when it comes to our destination marketing organizations (DMOs), whose job it is to market this region nationwide as a vacation destination, lines had to be drawn in the sand. Until now.

When 2 + 1 = 2

As of March 1, 2020 two of our region’s DMOs will become one. The Benzie County Area Convention and Visitors Bureau announced they will be merging with Traverse City Tourism. This merger not only impacts the Benzie CVB members but the Benzie Chamber as well. The Benzie Chamber and Benzie CVB shared staff, offices and a Visitor Center at the corner of M-115 and US-31 in Benzonia. This merger will bring two organizations together and leave one to stand alone.

In the fall of 2019 Mary Carroll, the Executive Director of the Benzie CVB and Benzie Chamber president announced she was leaving. This left the boards with big decisions to make about the future of their organizations. The Benzie Chamber selected Rick Coates to lead their organization starting in January 2020. In a letter to Benzie Chamber members announcing the merger, he shared their perspective,

“Tourism, along with agriculture are the largest economic drivers in Benzie County. Many of our businesses in Benzie are directly impacted by the tourism economy. This transition will serve as a great opportunity to strengthen our tourism industry which is vitally important to the economic health of Benzie County.”

At this time the Visitors Center in Beulah will remain open at the Chamber office in Benzonia. The Chamber will refocus its efforts on the economic development of Benzie county businesses. Lodging members of the Benzie CVB, who voted by referendum to support this union, will see some changes.

The room assessment percentage in Benzie county, a fee which is levied to lodging properties to fund the marketing organization, will increase from the current 2% to 5% to match that of Traverse City Tourism. All assessments and the responsibility for marketing the Benzie CVB members will shift to Traverse City Tourism in March.

In a press release from Traverse City Tourism, director Trevor Tkach shared some insight into the new marketing efforts.

“Collaborating with Benzie County allows us to tell bigger stories about our area’s greatest attractions, like skiing, fishing, golf, trails, watersports, and more.”

Affect on Local Business

We spoke with several of our Benzie County partners in hospitality to get their perspective on this regional approach to marketing and found overwhelming support for the merger.

Steve Campbell, owner of Harbor Lights Resort in Frankfort, is also a board member for the Benzie CVB. 

“As a lodging property in Benzie County, we are very excited about this partnership with Traverse City Tourism.  It allows our county to leverage the power and reach of TCT to help tell the story of Northwest Michigan not just on a state level, but more regionally, nationally and internationally.  This is now more important than ever given the uncertainly of Pure Michigan funding.  I am confident that the entire area will benefit from the increased exposure, not only from a tourism standpoint, but the potential long term impact on the economy.  Job creation in the tourism industry is one aspect, but long term, the more people that are exposed to this region, the greater the potential to attract more home buyers, entrepreneurs to start or move businesses here, etc.  I think this is all very positive.”

There are more than just the lodging properties who will be impacted by creating a larger regional CVB. Restaurants, retailers and attractions also stand to benefit from the increase in marketing that comes with greater resources. Riverside Canoes is located on the Platte River in Benzie county, inside the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Owner Kyle Orr sees the upside potential for Benzie county businesses.

“I think it’s an excellent opportunity for Benzie county businesses to scale our marketing. By partnering with TCT we gain a larger audience. And the additional dollars collected by the room tax should benefit the Benzie economy greatly, just as the Pure Michigan dollars do for all businesses. We know first hand how many people come from Traverse City to visit us for day trips. This is a win-win for all local economies.”

Impact on the Traveler

Travelers staying in Benzie county will notice the fee assessment increase this season, rising to 5%. That’s the cost of a large ice cream cone on a typical room rate, but for weekly vacation rentals, the hike will be more noticeable. The benefits to both travelers and businesses in the region comes in the form of access to information. Traverse City Tourism will be a broader resource for lodging choices and attraction information. And member properties will have a much larger marketing machine in their corner selling the benefits of Benzie county to travelers from across the globe.

How Can We Help

Traverse Traveler has a variety of marketing opportunities for local businesses to reach travelers staying in hotels. Since Traverse City Tourism will have more buying power to bring visitors to the region, we’re here to make sure they can find out about all this region has to offer.

  • Restaurants, wineries and breweries can feature their menu in our Dining Guide.
  • Our little card displays located in the hotel lobby are the first choice for guests wanting grab-and-go inspiration. And maps. They love the maps.
  • Our visitor channel that plays in-room engages guests through storytelling videos that entertain and inform.
  • The Traverse Traveler app includes all you need to know to navigate the region. It’s all-inclusive so every business has a chance to be seen.

As we mentioned at the start, Traverse Traveler has always had a regional approach to marketing. We represent businesses across Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau and Antrim county on ALL of our marketing platforms. We look forward to working with more Benzie county businesses who would like to reach travelers staying in Traverse City. And vice versa, we will continue to expand our distribution of content in Benzie county. We want to ensure their guests can learn about the amazing businesses that make up our little tip of the Mitten state.