Lodgers Sorting Out The Bumps

May 21, 2007
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Emerging from major market trauma following the 2001 terrorist attacks, the lodging industry has once again found its legs, particularly in second-tier cities such as Grand Rapids. There is no greater testament to this trend than the arrival of JW Marriott-Grand Rapids on the local scene.

In their final act as business partners and philanthropic stalwarts in this community, Alticor founders Rich DeVos and Jay Van Andel eschewed the grim hotel occupancy rates earlier this decade by forging ahead to bring JW Marriott to town. The payoff for downtown convention business and commerce is promising. The enhanced amenities the hotel brings are likely to draw a level of executive traveler who is familiar with such hospitality in much larger cities — cities they return to often.

The emergence of the burgeoning Medical Mile on

Michigan Street
provides evidence this city is continuing its growth into a major hub of scientific research and development. The segment of business travelers who fall into this category, and that of many others, including pharmaceuticals, finance and education, brings a growing, built-in user group for facilities such as the JW Marriott. The ears of airline and other transportation operators also will tend to perk up.

At the same time, however, the greater Grand Rapids lodging industry has several tasks at hand in order to take full advantage of a mobile traveling public who will need an affordable place to stay when they are coming to town for other activities — not just conventions or other downtown gatherings.

As the Business Journal's Page 1 story indicates, Brad Arnold, general manager of the Crowne Plaza Grand Rapids, is joining others in pointing out the need to share the wealth, so to speak. Occupancy at hotels operating in the suburban market remains far from capacity. They will not benefit substantially from the downtown convention trade. There are other ways to bridge this gap and they are waiting to be checked in.

The West Michigan Sports Commission, working in tandem with not only the Convention and Visitors Bureau, but with area recreational outlets, such as colleges, ice and soccer facilities and others, are poised to work hard to attract visitors to the area.

Just last week, the CVB announced the American Collegiate Hockey Association will holds its national championship tournament here in 2009. Georgetown Ice Arena will host the majority of the games. The estimated 1,000 visitors to that event are likely to stay in suburban hotels.

There also is the matter of funding marketing efforts for suburban hotels. The latest effort hinges on the CVB getting a plan implemented to bump up the tax it collects from hotels. Once the plan is enacted at the state level, it will have to be approved by members of the Kent County Lodging Association — including the suburban hotel operators. They will need to see the direct benefit of such an assessment. The task is to make these discussions move forward as soon as possible.     

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