Innkeepers Differ On Centers Impact

March 31, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — At least one 28th Street hotel is anticipating new business with the opening of the DeVos Place convention center later this year, while others only expect to catch some of the overflow.  

The 195-room Radisson Hotel Grand Rapids East on 28th Street is not a convention hotel and doesn’t currently have the space to compete with convention hotels, reports Tracee Daniel, general manager.

She explained that the Radisson’s target market is business travelers and families, and that she doesn’t think DeVos Place is going to have any impact on the hotel. 

“We are so much more of an airport property that the downtown convention business I don’t really think is going to affect us adversely or positively. I think we’re just going to pretty much remain status quo,” she said.

However, she said the hotel’s new owner — National Hospitality Services of Fargo, N.D. — intends to spend $3 million to $4 million to add more banquet and meeting space, an attached restaurant and a 2,000- to 6,000-square-foot strip mall to the site.

Construction is expected to begin this year.

Daniel said banquet and meeting space will be expanded from 2,800 to about 5,000 square feet and will allow the Radisson to do more convention and larger meeting business.

She said the hotel also is mulling the addition of free transportation service to the downtown area, apparently for occasions when downtown hotels are filled.  

Sunstone Hotels purchased the 320-room Crowne Plaza on 28th Street on Dec. 17. And General Manager David Rijos said part of the reason the company bought it was “excitement” over the expanded downtown convention center.

“We feel that Grand Rapids’ ability to double and triple the size of its number of room nights from convention business is not only real but is understated,” he said.

“Part of our business plan is to participate in the room nights associated with convention center business — and room business as a whole — coming to Grand Rapids.”   

He explained that the Crowne Plaza is adding 4,000 more square feet of space to the 19,000 it already has as part of a $2.5 million renovation to be completed in June. 

The hotel’s location just off of I-96 is three miles from the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, six miles from Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, less than a mile from shopping malls, and about 11 miles from downtown Grand Rapids attractions.

Rijos said the Crowne Plaza is well underway with a targeted marketing and promotions campaign directed at association and corporate group markets, and has added two new sales people to help drive its convention business.

“When you book an association or group it’s usually a year or two out before they arrive, so to impact the window of time before the convention center opens, we had to start now.”

Rijos said among Crowne Plaza’s lures are its national incentive programs.

He said the program includes Priority Club Rewards, a program that earns travelers points towards free nights, airline miles and more every time they stay; a “Hot Dates” program that offers room rate reductions on certain dates; and hotel packaging options that bundle hotel rooms, meeting rooms, coffee and lunch breaks, and other activities such as golf packages.

Having a national brand such as Crowne Plaza that allows guests to earn points is very attractive, Rijos said, as is the hotel’s ease of airport access. He pointed out that Crowne Plaza offers the largest meeting space outside of the downtown hotels, which adds to availability of space for evening breakout sessions, social receptions, award dinners and similar events.

The hotel offers free transportation to and from the airport but currently does not operate a free downtown shuttle.

“A lot of the citywide conferences have transportation built into them as part of the arrangement or there are arrangements made when it’s booked by the city to have transportation available to outlying hotels, usually by private charters, ” Rijos added.

Annie Watt, general manager of the 109-room Exel Inn of Grand Rapids, at 28th Street and I-96, said she doesn’t expect a new wave of business with the opening of DeVos Place.

“I think I feel the same way that a lot of my colleagues along this strip feel — that most everything that happens downtown doesn’t really benefit us,” Watt said. “Our primary mode of business here at Exel Inn is we offer inexpensive yet excellent accommodations, but we don’t have conference rooms and we don’t have a restaurant.”

She said Exel Inn is not necessarily targeting visitors that the convention center might bring in, but it does get a lot of business from exhibitors when they come to town, as it did during the recent boating show. She said the Dead Seas Scrolls exhibit at the Van Andel Museum Center also is generating some business.

“Maybe people don’t want to spend a lot of money, but they want to visit the exhibit and just need a place to stay,” she mused.

She said the hotel tends to attract a lot of overnight business from economically minded travelers as well as seniors who appreciate good quality at a reasonable price.

In the summer, for instance, she said the hotel occasionally provides lodging for construction crews operating under a limited per diem budget when here in town to work on local projects. 

“They’re not really looking for the frills, but they just want a nice clean place to stay. We have a nice little park and fly package where people can park here up to a certain number of days.”

Watt said Exel Inn’s primary source of business is per diem travelers or independent business people, some of whom may cover a regional territory and have to pay all expenses out of pocket.

She noted that the hotel offers the same amenities as did the northern Nevada hotel she formerly managed, where the rooms cost $40 to $50 more a night. 

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