Digital & Social Media

States Go Fishing for Tourists

States Go Fishing for Tourists

It’s summertime and the tourists are coming – at least, that’s what all 50 U.S. states are hoping. Each year, the states collectively spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to attract visitors. Technology has changed the way they spend their money, and is helping them target the most likely tourists, whether they are in state or out of the country.

The summer travel season is the busiest in the U.S., with roughly 91 percent of tourists traveling by car, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. With summer gas prices at their lowest since 2009, everyone is expecting a banner year.

In Idaho, the new “18 Summers” campaign is already a hit. Idaho Tourism has seen a 6 percent jump in Facebook likes and a 5 percent increase in followers of its Twitter feed since it launched in April.



“The premise of the campaign is that every family has 18 summers with a child,” said Matt Borud with Idaho Tourism. “There’s only so much time to make memories with your kids.” By June, more than 57,000 minutes had been spent watching the state’s inspirational videos on YouTube. “We try to be as Idaho specific as we can,” Borud said. “We focus on telling stories because we know if you see our ads, you’ll be inspired to come to Idaho.”

The state’s ads are geared toward families with middle to high school aged children. “Idaho is primarily a drive market, so we advertise in the 11 Western states and southwest Canada,” Borud said.

On the East Coast, the Connecticut Office of Tourism (a FleishmanHillard client) continued its Connecticut still revolutionary campaign this summer. The campaign targets active leisure travelers in the 25- to 54-year-old age range with an annual HHI greater than $100,000. The campaign encourages in-state residents to explore Connecticut further, while also tempting out–of-state visitors from the greater New York City, Boston and Philadelphia areas.


Connecticut’s proximity to those major metropolitan areas make the state a perfect summer getaway, said Randy Fiveash, director of the Connecticut Office of Tourism. “Connecticut offers so much to see and do without having to travel too far or plan much,” he continued.

The Connecticut still revolutionary campaign features an increased focus in overnight stays and a greater emphasis on Connecticut casinos as world-class entertainment destinations. The $2.3 million 2015 media spend includes a mix of television, out of home and digital media ads. New this year is an increase in advertising in Manhattan and digital media ads in Boston and Philadelphia. “Tourism is a major, growing industry in Connecticut,” Fiveash said.

Idaho funds its tourism campaigns with a 2 percent bed tax, charged to all lodging properties across the state. Revenues are up more than 8 percent so far this year. With an $8 million advertising budget, Idaho is still in the minor leagues, compared to states like Hawaii, New York and Florida, which have budgets at least 6 times that of Idaho. The City of Chicago alone spends $3 million on tourism advertising.

“We’re a relatively small state,” Borud said. “We think of ourselves as the scrappy upstarts. We’re always trying to do more with less and we are open to trying new things. Our agency loves hearing that.”

About 95 percent of Idaho’s advertising is digital. New technology allowed the state to move from geo-tracking to behavioral targeting, with impressive results. “We’ve had exponential increases,” Borud said. “We are able to track someone in Saint Louis who saw one of our Idaho ads, started looking at travel websites and ultimately booked a hotel room. We can trace that booking back to someone seeing our ad.”

Halfway across the country, “Pure Michigan” has been a monster success for that state since 2009, when Michigan’s campaign went national for the first time. The campaign, which launched regionally in 2006, is celebrating its 10th anniversary. It’s an important date for the state. “Before then, we weren’t part of the tourist conversation,” said Michelle Grinnell with Travel Michigan.


But thanks to Pure Michigan, tourists spent $22.8 billion in Michigan in 2014, generating $85.4 million in tax revenues and resulting in a record ROI of $6.87, one of the highest in the country. Michigan has a tourism budget of $33 million for fiscal 2016, of which about $12 million is spent nationally on cable channels such as Food Network, HGTV and TLC. The state added network morning shows to the mix in 2014, Grinnell said. Those national ads will run more than 5,000 times.

Visitor spending supports more than 214,000 jobs, without which, Michigan’s 2014 unemployment rate of 7.3 percent would have been 13.3 percent, according to report from the governor’s office.

Connecticut’s numbers are equally impressive. The tourism industry generated $14 billion in total sales in 2013 – a 3 percent increase from the prior year – and supported more than 118,000 jobs statewide, including 80,000 direct jobs, according to a report from the governor’s office.

In Michigan, it’s about more than numbers. The “Pure Michigan” campaign has gone a long way to rehabilitating the state’s image nationwide. “At the height of the recession in 2009, Pure Michigan became the state brand, not just the brand for tourism,” Grinnell said. “We hear from ex-pats all the time about how the ads make them proud to be from Michigan.”


About the author

Maggie Sieger is an award-winning journalist and former Time Magazine correspondent, published also by Reuters, the Chicago Tribune, Entertainment Weekly, Realtor Magazine and Readers Digest, among others. She is the author of Deep in the Heart, the First 50 Years of Duchesne Academy. Sieger currently works as a freelance writer and media consultant in Saint Louis, Mo.

Media Bank

  • Connecticut Travel Guide

    Connecticut Travel Guide

  • Idaho Travel Guide

    Idaho Travel Guide

  • Michigan Travel Guide

    Michigan Travel Guide