Bureau Pooleing Resources

April 16, 2007
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The local hospitality industry has two hills to climb in order to land more national groups here.

The first: Grand Rapids has to become better known throughout the country. The second: The city needs regular in-bound flights from a low-cost national airline.

One good thing is the two are tied together. Once the city becomes better known, it’s all but certain to be serviced by a discount airliner. Both are being worked on.

But one thing that doesn’t need work is the city’s affordability factor, at least compared to many of the first-tier markets the Convention and Visitors Bureau has been bumping heads with since

DeVos Place
opened. When the delegates get here, the economics of a stay are in the city’s favor.

“The first-tier cities are so expensive for middle-range associations. Most middle-range associations are volunteer associations, and the individuals pay for their rooms. They just can’t afford to go to Chicago,” said Jeff Poole, owner of JSP Marketing in Washington, D.C., the bureau’s consultant for national business.

“Two things happen. One, the meeting department of a trade association will look for an affordable location. Two, Grand Rapids is willing to help (the association) build attendance. The main concern about an association meeting in a second-tier — or what I now call a mid-sized — city is they’re afraid of attendance falling off. And the way (hotel) rates are going, it doesn’t look like it’s going to get any better in first-tier cities.” 

JSP Marketing has provided CVB with convention leads for two years. Having a consultant in the nation’s capital, where 4,000 associations are located, has paid off for the bureau. CVB Vice President of Sales George Helmstead told the Operations Committee of the Convention and Arena Authority that leads coming from Poole resulted in 32,000 room nights here last year. Helmstead said JSP Marketing also played a part in booking 13,000 hotel nights just through February this year, a figure doubling the total from the first two months of last year.

“We’re bidding against groups in Columbus, Ohio, and Kansas City. We’re getting to the point where Grand Rapids is being noticed in that category,” said Poole.

“We just booked the National Association of Retired and Active Federal Employees, and that is a huge meeting for us. We’re working on the postal masters convention. There is an association for everything.”

Poole’s objective is to identify which groups fit the market. Those are often national associations that have regional meetings, meaning members in a five- or six-state area get together in a city located within the region. Another good fit is a smaller association with about 1,000 members within driving range of the city.

“Often, it’s like picking a needle out of a haystack. There is a lot out there yet to be identified that we haven’t identified, and we’ll continue to do that. I think it’s a bright outlook for us, especially with the new JW (Marriott) coming on, as long as they give us the type of rates that we need,” he said.

“For us to be attractive without the airfare — and that’s one of our major hurdles — is that our (hotel) rates need to be lower enough where we overcome (the airfare). They have to switch planes, and it costs this much more. So we have to be very competitive on a rate to stay attractive.”

Another way the bureau stays competitive is by sharing its national advertising cost with the three other cities that JSP Marketing represents. The current print ad — Four Great Cities, One Phone Call — is running in a national trade publication. It features Lexington, Ky., Daytona Beach, Fla., Mobile Bay, Ala., and Grand Rapids. The cities split the cost four ways, and JSP Marketing tries to route as many customers as it can through the four in alternate years.

Poole said he would like to help book at least 25,000 room nights here this year, a number he considers large because his clients won’t use all of the hotels in the county.

“What you have to understand right now is the business that we book doesn’t want to stay at the airport and doesn’t want to bus. They want to be able to walk to any meeting, so we’re limited by the hotel rooms that we have downtown,” he said.

“With the new JW, we’ll be right around 1,000. The total room nights for a group may be around 2,000 for a convention. So we’ve got to book a lot of those, and you’ve got a lot of challenges there. But in a rough nutshell, the more we bid, the more we get people’s faces down here, and maybe the next time we get it. It’s an awareness thing. It’s being active here in D.C.”

The Affordability Factor

An industry source reported last summer the city is more affordable for convention delegates than many of the markets the local Convention and Visitors Bureau competes against for meetings.

City                   

Average Per
Diem Cost

Grand Rapids $173.37
Albuquerque $174.01
Kansas City $187.89
Dallas $201.65
Reno $202.83
Denver $221.63
San Diego $285.93

Source: Runzheimer International, August 2006

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