Convention Marketing Effort Well Underway For City

June 14, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Building a far greater awareness of Grand Rapids among meeting planners is the key toward marketing the city as a convention destination once the new $219.5 million DeVos Place opens in 2004.

The Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) has stepped up its marketing efforts in conjunction with the conversion and transformation of the Grand Center into DeVos Place. The bureau’s plan “is to go beyond the borders of Michigan” in order to lure convention business to town, CVB President Steve Wilson said.

While Grand Rapids rated No. 1 in a survey of meeting planners within Michigan as a host city for a convention, it has little awareness outside of the state, Wilson said.

“Outside of the borders of Michigan there is a real lack of awareness, so we have a sales and marketing challenge ahead of us,” Wilson said.

“We’ve got to increase that awareness to meeting planners on a regional and national level. We simply have a low level of awareness.”

The bureau plans to conduct a nationwide telephone survey of meeting planners to gather data on what they want in a host community and facility, and will then use the findings to build a marketing and promotion plan for DeVos Place, Wilson said.

The bureau plans to target organizations nationwide that prefer to hold an annual meeting, trade show or convention in a “second tier,” or mid-sized, community that offers good attractions but has a more relaxed atmosphere compared to larger destination cities or those with hectic tourism seasons, Wilson said.

Grand Rapids’ primary competition for business is other Midwestern cities of similar size and character, Wilson said.

Working under contract for the City of Grand Rapids and Kent County, the Convention & Visitors Bureau has plenty of competition nationally for hosting conventions. Ninety-four cities across the U.S. are actively courting convention business for their own facilities, Wilson said.

That means Grand Rapids, in order to compete for that business, has to build a marketing plan that makes the area stand out from other communities. Grand Rapids also needs to show that it’s a cost-effective location for meetings and offers the attractions and amenities that conference planners want in a host city, Wilson said.

“Meeting planners have more choices than ever before. What we have to do is differentiate ourselves,” Wilson said.

Weighing in Grand Rapids’ favor are attractions such as Frederik Meijer Gardens and Gerald R. Ford Museum, Wilson said. He notes that downtown Grand Rapids has 1,000 guest rooms and 34 restaurants and nightclubs within easy walking distance of DeVos Place.

Downtown Grand Rapids has also seen more than $250 million in convention and tourism infrastructure investment in the last eight years, Wilson said.

With DeVos Place in its early stages of construction, the Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau has already signed two conventions for the years ahead.

More than 1,500 members of the American Meat Processors Association will meet in Grand Rapids in July 2004. The 1,500-member National Association of Interpretation, a national trade group representing museum curators, will meet at DeVos Place in November 2004.

The two conventions will generate a combined economic impact of $2 million.

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