Grand Rapids Sites Are Becoming A Draw

May 3, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS – The folks at the Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau face a bit of a challenge in the New Year: matching what they accomplished during the year 2000.

The bureau reports that convention bookings last year were up 49 percent over 1999. Meanwhile, the bureau’s Golf Grand Rapids package produced a 42 percent increase in the number of golfers coming to play at area courses.

And the bureau says that when all the numbers are in from around the state, it may be that this community will turn out to be the state’s fastest-growing visitor destination, with a 20 percent overall increase in attendance at its top six attractions during the year.

The increases came at the Van Andel Museum Center, up 39 percent, and the Grand Rapids Art Museum, up 32 percent.

Also taking large jumps, at 30 percent and 25 percent, respectively, were the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum and Frederik Meijer Gardens.

The remaining two of the top visitor destinations, John Ball Zoo and the Gerald R. Ford Museum, had virtually no change in attendance between 1999 and 2000.

But the top four reached a record high during 2000, attracting a projected total of 1.4 million visitors.

The bureau stresses that those high attendance figures by no means stem from the bureau’s work alone.

Barbara Kravitz, CVB director of communications, said that the turnout results from coordinated marketing by the destinations and the bureau.

“For instance, one of the reasons that the Museum Center drew so many people,” she explained, “was its Mystery of Egypt exhibit. It was very, very popular.”

Likewise, she explained that Dr. Seuss helped boost attendance at the Children’s Museum, and continued promotion of the da Vinci horse and other newer sculptures helped attract people to the Frederik Meijer Gardens.

Also helping, she added, were 15 of the area’s hotels working together with the CVB. Any visitor booking at one of the participating hotels received the bureau’s so-called triple treat package for leisure travelers. The package enabled a visitor to visit the top six attractions at a discount.

Nearly 600 triple treat tickets were redeemed at a cost of $5,000 to the bureau, with a return on the investment of slightly over $35,000.

In terms of revenue, visitors’ spending here is estimated to be in the tens of millions. A study based on the 107,000 visitors to the Mysteries of Egypt exhibit at the Museum Center indicates that 14,000 of those people came from outside the Grand Rapids-Holland-Muskegon area.

And those 14,000 visitors are believed to have spent $3.9 million in the local economy. Among those visitors were 355 motorcoach group tours that, according to the CVB, had an economic impact exceeding $2 million.

Room night bookings by the bureau’s sales department soared almost 50 percent during 2000: 55,780, up from 37,315.

The largest booking during the year was for the Michigan State Bowling Association’s Tournament. Contenders and their families will come to Grand Rapids every weekend for five months during 2002 and will spend an estimated $8.8 million. Coming this year for shorter-duration events will be participants in a convention of the American Association of Meat Processors, and coaches, players, relatives and spectators for the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Championship Tourney.

And now in its third year, Golf Grand Rapids has booked reservations for 626 golfers, a 42 percent jump over last year. This represents 1,377 tee times compared to 626 in 1999.

Nine courses and 12 hotels are participating in the program this year.

With respect to its own offices, the bureau had some good news and some bad news.

The bad news was that the number of people paying a visit to the bureau was down 42 percent, chiefly because of construction through most of the year on Monroe Center.

But the good news is that visitors to the bureau’s Web site, visitgrandrapids.org, soared 95 percent over the same period in 1999. Moreover, the bureau – foreseeing the difficulties arising from Monroe Center construction – established satellite information centers at Woodland Mall and Gerald R. Ford International Airport.

The bureau believes another difficult-to-measure factor in Grand Rapids’ increasing popularity is publicity.

The bureau has learned of nearly 200 articles about Grand Rapids appearing in almost 80 newspapers and magazines ranging from Travel America to Home & Away, and from Golf Digest to the St. Louis (Mo.) Post-Dispatch.

The bureau, which turns 74 years of age in 2001, is a private, not-for-profit association funded by Kent County, the City of Grand Rapids, and 376 member businesses and local innkeepers.

Seventy of those members joined the bureau during the year.           

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