TRAVERSE CITY (WWJ/AP) – Tourism spending in Michigan rose in 2011 for the second consecutive year, a trend likely to continue as an improving economy trumps concerns about higher gasoline prices, analysts said Tuesday.

WWJ Newsradio 950 spoke with Dan McCole, assistant professor of tourism at Michigan State University.

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“The real difference in Michigan tourism, and this is a change from the past, is the large number of out-of-state visitors that have been coming here. And that’s in large part due to the Pure Michigan campaign, I’m sure,” McCole said.

The “Pure Michigan” ad campaign, combined with the recovery, helped post an 8 percent rise in spending on tourism, said McCole. That was twice as big an increase as he and colleagues had predicted.

McCole projected tourists will spend 6 percent more in 2012.

“As long as the weather is good – and that’s always a big `if’ – I think we’re going to see a very strong year for tourism,” he said during the Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference in Grand Rapids.

The 2011 jump happened despite a cooler, wetter summer than a year earlier, said Sarah Nicholls, an associate professor at Michigan State. Hotel occupancy was up 7 percent statewide and 10 percent in Detroit.

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McCole said the economy remains a mixed bag, with indicators such as housing construction and the stock market improving although unemployment remains high. While half of the U.S. population wasn’t affected by the recession, many of those who could afford to travel held back out of caution, he said. Those people should loosen their purse strings as conditions improve.

One survey showed 44 percent of Americans plan to step up their leisure travel this year, McCole said. Despite widespread complaints, expensive gas probably won’t be a big problem overall, although some out-of-the-way destinations might see fewer visitors. Activities built around heavy fuel use, such as motorboating, also could take a hit. But most travelers are doing well enough financially to absorb the added cost.

“People prioritize their vacations. That’s something they’re going to fight to defend,” he said.

Statistics released at the conference said the Pure Michigan cable television ad campaign drew 3.2 million visitors and generated $1 billion in spending last year. Those travelers paid $70 million in Michigan taxes, meaning the state received $4.90 for each dollar invested in Pure Michigan ads, according to a study by Longwoods International, a tourism research company.

The program is “delivering impressive results for our state,” Gov. Rick Snyder said.

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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