South Haven ramps up tourism marketing

A couple sailing on the Friends Good Will tall ship in South Haven is among the video images shown on a new television commercial promoting South Haven’s appeal during autumn.

SOUTH HAVEN — South Haven/Van Buren County Convention and Visitors Bureau promotes tourism on billboards, in magazines and on the radio. But this year the bureau decided to go one step further by touting the lakeshore town’s amenities on television.

The ad, titled “Find Your Escape This Fall in South Haven,” is a 30-second spot that is airing on stations in Chicago’s western and southwest suburbs, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, and Detroit between now and the end of September.

The intent of the ad is to capture South Haven’s relaxed pace and scenery. It opens with images of the tall ship Friends Good Will, and goes on to depict people walking on the pier to view the historic South Haven lighthouse and views of people enjoying themselves downtown.

It’s part of the bureau’s goal to lure more visitors to South Haven during the autumn months, according to Scott Reinert, the bureau’s executive director. It’s also meant to differentiate South Haven from other cities that dot the Lake Michigan shoreline.

“Though South Haven is best known for our beaches and summertime charm, the town also has much to offer in the fall season,” he said.

For the past two years, the visitor’s bureau has been ramping up its promotional efforts to attract tourists during non-summer months.

“We’re trying to grow the tourism economy year-round,” Reinert said in a previous interview. “We’re trying to create things for the local residents, as well as visitors. We think it will be a nice blend and good for the community as a whole.”

The visitors bureau, which represents 40 lodging establishments, is also thinking in dollars and cents for South Haven’s tourism economy.

A 2014 tourism study by the Michigan Travel Commission showed the average daytime visitor in Michigan spends $70 while staying in a town such as South Haven for the day. However, an overnight visitors spends $385, with 78 percent of that amount going toward food, shopping and attractions.

“If we have things to draw visitors here overnight, that will bolster not only the lodging establishments but retailers and restaurants,” Reinert said.

To attract more tourists the bureau recently hired a coordinator to organize additional festivals for the shoulder seasons.

Fall festivals include Smooth Sunset Weekend and Jazz Festival in September, Haven Harvest Festival in October and Women’s Only Weekend in November.

“The long-term objective is to create monthly weekend events during the off-season months, September through May,” Reinert said.

So where is the bureau getting the funds to increase its marketing efforts?

The increased budget comes from the room tax assessment that the bureau’s lodging establishments are charged annually. In 2015, members gave the OK to have their room tax assessments raised from 2 percent to 5 percent.

That has allowed the visitors bureau to expand its marketing and advertising budget from $318,000 in 2015 to $850,000 this year.

With the sizable budget increase, the bureau has launched a new website and a new logo, increased its billboard presence on I-94 between Chicago and Ann Arbor, updated its office building, created new weekly events calendars and monthly online updates for its members, and is utilizing Facebook and Instagram more.