Convention Bureau Tops 300

August 6, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Convention and Visitors Bureau President Steve Wilson recently told county commissioners that his staff had surpassed a coveted business mark at DeVos Place by topping the 300th booked meeting for the city’s convention center and generating nearly $100 million for the local economy from those gatherings.

Wilson said one of the bureau’s biggest bookings was one of its most recent, as the CVB captured the National Model Railroad Association annual meeting for 2012. The NMRA, which is based in Chattanooga, will bring 1,500 delegates to town who are expected to spend about $2 million while they’re here. To get the much-sought-after meeting, the bureau had to topple their counterparts in Indianapolis.

“We felt a bit like David and Goliath going into that presentation,” said Wilson.

Wilson credited local NMRA members for helping his sales staff land the booking over a bigger building in a larger city. But Wilson also said the success the city has had in attracting conventions actually began before DeVos Place opened. He said Kent County’s decision to advance the bureau money in 2000 so it could begin to market the new building was what got the bookings ball rolling.

More recently, county commissioners added another $29,000 to the bureau’s marketing effort. The additional dollars are for the 2006 budget and are considered a bonus, because revenue to the county’s lodging-excise tax grew last year from the 2005 total.

A clause in the contract the CVB has with the county gives the bureau a CPI increase in its base funding when hotel-motel tax receipts top 5 percent. Those “bonus bucks” brought the county’s financial support to the bureau for last year to $882,398. The county is on track to fund the CVB with $900,000 this year, the final year of the current contract. But right now it doesn’t look like the bureau will receive that bonus for 2007.

Wilson said tax receipts rose by 7 percent last year. But that revenue is only up by 1 percent this year, despite a local hotel occupancy rate of 56 percent, which exceeds the state average by 6 percent, and a daily room rate that is $4 higher than the state average. The tax adds 5 percent to a guest’s tab at every hotel and motel in the county.

Wilson said the lodging industry’s room inventory will grow by 450 this year with most of the new rooms coming from the downtown JW Marriott. Alticor Inc., which owns the luxury hotel, has set opening day for Sept. 19. Wilson said having more rooms will create a need for more demand, and increasing corporate travel here will be vital to fill the larger supply.

Wilson also said the booking achievements DeVos Place has registered so far were due to the bureau, building manager SMG and the Kent County Lodging Association having made set-ups easier for meeting planners and delegates feel welcome.

“What they have said is the service they get from Grand Rapids after the sale is stellar,” he said.

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