Detroit CVB: City's revival well under way

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The Detroit Convention and Visitors Bureau's marketing campaign, unveiled late last year amid much fanfare over an innovative approach to reviving the city's tourism industry, has begun to pay off, a CVB official said.

"Our unique hits on our Web site were up 250% in July and up 350% in August, when our campaign was in full force," said Chris Baum, vice president of marketing for the CVB and one of the architects of the new marketing campaign.

Marketing analysis shows that interest in the Web site is coming from visitors who live an hour or two hours from the city. Travel agents are showing an interest, too.

"All of our familiarization trips are fully subscribed," Baum said. "Every one is full. We're getting strong response from travel agents and convention bookers, saying they had no idea Detroit was so nice, that they came with a misconception of the city and that they were glad to know what is going on here now. Not too many years ago, to get someone to come on a fam trip here was pretty difficult."

Construction and renovation in the city's downtown have changed its look and feel. A recently completed river walk along the Detroit River, where a new port authority terminal is being built and where Great Lakes cruises will depart in the future, is drawing residents and visitors downtown.

Traffic in the city's core is up, Baum said, and the opening of the MGM Grand Detroit and the MotorCity Casino Hotel later this year is expected to flood the downtown with thousands of gamblers as well as visitors seeking upscale accommodations. Such development has spilled over into plans for new downtown retail shopping.

Baum said that as a result of its marketing plan, group leads for the CVB were up 75% over last year.

"I would have been extremely happy over a 40% increase in group leads," Baum said. "But 75% is almost unbelievable, given the already strong sales staff we have."

The marketing campaign targets a young demographic and plays on themes surrounding the city's vigorous history of music innovation, its automotive and engineering strengths and a core idea that Detroit is a unique, "cool" place to visit.

The campaign's back story is that Detroit has shed its image as a troubled city and that such perceptions are no longer viable.

Much of that image stems from past social unrest, poverty amid enormous wealth and white flight to the surrounding, moneyed suburbs. But that perception has faded as Detroit has remade itself through aggressive rebuilding projects, including posh new venues for its sports teams, new restaurants, theaters and casinos. Residents are moving back to the city's core.

"There has been a fantastic response on both the leisure and business travel sides," said Baum. "Of course, things are always fraught with the potential for backlash, for differences of opinion and so many things that could go wrong. But we have gotten strong support from all fronts for the campaign, a unified and persistent support coming from throughout the community."

Even die-hard skeptics among long-term residents, who didn't believe that a message about a revived Detroit would work, have started to believe. "Attitudes are starting to change, and there is a shift in the mind-set among those who now see that there really is a renaissance occurring here, as promised," Baum said.

To contact reporter Dan Luzadder, send e-mail to [email protected].

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For more details on this article, see "Detroit to get a little bit of Vegas when the MGM Grand opens."

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