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It’s a Wrap for the 2024 Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism

More than 500 convene for three-day event in Kalamazoo

By Kathy Gibbons

If you attended the 2024 Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Kalamazoo April 9-11, you came away learning that, more than ever, there’s little daylight between the state’s economic development and tourism promotion efforts—the same initiatives that attract people to visit can help transform them into residents.

Speakers also conveyed that accessibility needs to be top of mind for destinations; those that don’t embrace it are likely to be left behind, as are those who are not open to change or to thinking outside the box. In addition, the message was that a rising tide floats all boats—a success in one part of the state is a win for the whole.

“Pure Michigan is an iconic brand. It’s not going anywhere,” says Quentin L. Messer Jr., chief executive and economic competitiveness officer for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), in an address to the audience at the Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism. “We need to make sure, in addition to demonstrating to people what you can do in Michigan, we have to demonstrate … what you can be in Michigan.”

Kristy Durso shares her experiences with travel as a wheelchair user and travel professional. || Photo by Kathy Gibbons

Kristy Durso, founder and owner of a full-service travel agency specializing in special needs travel called Incredible Memories Travel, shared her experiences with adventure travel as a wheelchair user. She cited issues that travelers like her encounter with everything from cruise ships that don’t offer sufficient accessibility to airlines that don’t know how to handle and end up breaking wheelchairs.

“You’re not accessible yet,” she told the crowd as her service dog rested beside her on stage. “You may think you are. You may think the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) is the world’s greatest thing for people with disablilities. But the ADA is outdated. It gets me in the door.”

The upcoming NFL Draft, taking place in Detroit April 25-27, is expected to draw tens of thousands of visitors to the city of Detroit as well as unprecedented national and global media attention including broadcast coverage reaching more than 50 million viewers, according to Visit Detroit. It’s an opportunity for the city to shine that was mentioned throughout the Pure Michigan Governors Conference and cited as having a halo effect for all of Michigan.

“It’s a huge opportunity for Michigan to celebrate, to have this opportunity here,” says Kelly Wolgamott, Travel Michigan interim vice president, as she presented information at the Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference about a new campaign between Pure Michigan, the MEDC, and Visit Detroit. The campaign showcases Detroit as a top sports town and ideal place to live, work, and play ahead of the NFL Draft, and features Emmy award-winning actor, comedian, and Detroit native Sam Richardson offering his takes on the top things to do and see around Detroit. It also includes an appearance from former Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the audience at the 2024 Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism. || Photo by Kathy Gibbons

The Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference included approximately 500 individuals representing convention and visitors bureaus, associations, lodging properties, restaurants, attractions, government entities, and vendors servicing the state’s hospitality industry. Attendees spent three days networking, attending sessions, and listening to speakers at the Radisson Plaza Hotel at Kalamazoo Center.

Janet Korn, senior vice president of Experience Grand Rapids, was presented the Pure Michigan Legacy Award—it’s an honor recognizing leaders and visionaries in the Michigan Tourism Industry.

“This award is not just a celebration of the past, but affirmation of my commitment of continuing to promote Grand Rapids and Michigan with all of you,” she said in her acceptance speech at the Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference. “Our work is far from over and I’m excited to embark on the next chapter together.”

Experience Grand Rapids Senior Vice President, Janet Korn, received the Pure Michigan Legacy Award at the 2024 Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Kalamazoo. || Courtesy of Experience Grand Rapids

The City of Lansing, Village of Milford, and Oscoda area were recognized as 2024 Pure Michigan Trail Towns by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Highbanks Trail was named 2024 Pure Michigan Trail.

TICOM (Tourism Industry Coalition of Michigan) President Kim Corcoran presented four tourism collaboration awards. Categories included education, which went to the Savor & Soar Hospitality Tourism Summit held in Grand Rapids in 2023; marketing, awarded to the Mount Pleasant Area Convention & Visitors Bureau and Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort for cultivating a successful partnership; experience development, given to the Houghton Lake Area Tourism Bureau for developing a geocaching project that has attracted visitors from all over; and nontraditional partnerships, that went to the DoubleTree by Hilton Battle Creek for its renovation of the old McCamly Plaza Hotel that resulted from a collaboration between public and private sectors.

Before conference-goers dispersed, they learned from Visit Detroit’s Christopher Moyer that the 2025 Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism will be held in Oakland County, at Novi’s Suburban Collection Showplace. “Oakland County has a fabric and stitchwork of small and midsize cities that really invites people in and welcomes people with great dining, great shopping, great opportunities,” Moyer said.