- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - David West’s work took him to the snowy, frigid Upper Peninsula last week.

Despite the weather, that’s fine with him.

“I’m very, very excited I’m going up to the U.P. in the middle of January,” he told the Lansing State Journal (https://on.lsj.com/1u7fCUX). “I like the snow, and I want to go dog-sledding.”

For West, 43, a U.P. trek, a visit to Traverse City or a sojourn in Detroit are all in a week’s work. He started a job last month as vice president of travel for the Michigan Economic Development Corp. He’ll lead efforts to boost Michigan destinations and oversee the popular Pure Michigan campaign. Tourism was almost a $19 billion industry in Michigan in 2013, the most recent year for which figures are available.

West grew up in East Lansing, earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Michigan and did graduate work at Michigan State University. He left for Pennsylvania 15 years ago to teach in Temple University’s School of Tourism and Hospitality Management; he most recently served as vice president of marketing for the Pocono Mountains Visitor Bureau.

The chance to come home to expand on an already-successful effort was too good to pass up, he said.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “I’ve been a fan of Pure Michigan, the brand,” he said. “I’m very proud that Michigan has really invested in the future.”

We sat down with West on a recent snowy morning to get his take on what’s ahead for tourism in Michigan.

First on West’s list is launching a new website.

“We want to start working on the evolution of the Pure Michigan brand,” he said. “We want to make it even better, even stronger, to go further. We want to expand our international marketing and really draw in new visitors from China and from Germany and from Great Britain, and I would love to see us double down in tourism investment,” he said.

West said he loves the Pure Michigan campaign, budgeted at $29 million for this fiscal year. It includes the website, social media, event sponsorship, the Pure Michigan Travel Guide and national and regional advertising. Those effective TV and radio commercials marry seasonal or regional images of the state with narration by former Michigander Tim Allen.

“Pure Michigan will never go away. We are just going to evolve it, and we want to make sure we highlight the experiential aspects,” he said.

Also look for efforts to “connect the dots” between individual attractions to encourage guests to stay longer.

“We individually have great products, and now it is time to connect them and make a much bigger product for travelers coming from longer distances,” he said. “They’re coming not just for a weekend but for a week or longer.”

That might mean something as broad as creating a craft beer trail or catering to special interests such as hunters, bird-watchers or people who want to ride fat-tire bikes in snow.

“What we want to do is to be a very helpful resource to the entire state,” West said.

West said he loves social media, and thinks the electronic word-of-mouth is really helpful to tourism in Michigan.

“I’m a huge believer in social media and that we need to continually grow our social media presence,” he said. “Even though Michigan is ranked one of the top five social media presences in the world - we’re right up there with Australia and Hawaii - we need to make sure that never declines.”

“I’m very competitive,” he said, “so I want to be No. 1.”

On Twitter, the #PureMichigan hashtag hit 1 million shares over the summer. Michiganders and visitors share thousands of photos on social media.

“People will go onto Instagram, and we get a lot of requests that say, ‘I want to go there. Where is there?’” West said.

Of course, people come to Michigan for its 19 million acres of forest, Great Lakes and thousands of inland lakes. But West said the idea of Pure Michigan goes beyond that.

“It’s also about spirit,” he said. “Look at Detroit. I think there is a great example of Pure Michigan happening right now in the Detroit metro area in the entrepreneurship, the hospitality, the innovation. That’s exciting.”

His goal: “Over the next several years we are going to try to capture that and share it with the world.”

Another possibility to build on in the future could lie right here in mid-Michigan.

“Locally I think that we have some phenomenal opportunities,” West said. One example: The Facility for Rare Isotope Beams currently under construction at MSU.

“It is a world-class science facility. Why not put some sort of visitor interactive experience attached to that?” he asked. “I can tell you I could sell that. I could sell that to people who want to see a big college town.”

The visit could be rounded out with visits to the Broad Museum, Abrams Planetarium and Spartan Stadium. It could even turn into a multi-day visit by Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan as part of a suggested college or Big 10 tour.

“That’s going to take years to cultivate, but I think those are the types of things the future has available to us,” he said.

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Information from: Lansing State Journal, https://www.lansingstatejournal.com

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