The heat is almost on

January 9, 2009
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When Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell decides not to run for re-election, he just might turn up on a local television station forecasting the weather. He has already made an audition tape of sorts.

The city’s mayor filled the opening spot on a video the Convention and Visitors Bureau streamed to members of the Religious Conference Management Association, which is holding its annual meeting at

DeVos Place
Jan. 27-30.

In the video, Heartwell urged attendees not to let the thought of winter deter them from coming to Grand Rapids and predicted a heat wave for the city over the convention’s run.

“This is going to be the hottest January in the history of Grand Rapids,” said a smiling meteorological version of Heartwell.

“It’s always shirtsleeve weather in our heated skywalk,” he said of the enclosed walkway that stretches from the convention center to three of downtown’s four hotels and Van Andel Arena.

The video the mayor recorded is part of the CVB’s special marketing campaign for the RCMA, which bureau officials have repeatedly said is one of the most important meetings the city has ever hosted. The marketing effort highlights the city’s “hot spots,’ which are illustrated with red thermometers on a map that encourages attendees to visit during their stay .

“Obviously, this is a tough time to get people to travel,” said CVB Vice President Janet Korn.

Korn recently told the Convention and Arena Authority that the bureau decided to use humor in its RCMA campaign. She said the CVB did four mailings when three would usually do the job, and made 1,100 phone calls to invite members to the four-day conference. Then the bureau put together the streaming video that featured Heartwell.

“We’ve been talking about the RCMA for two or three years, and now it is here,” said Joseph Tomaselli, president of Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and CAA member.

In the past, booking the RCMA for its national meeting has led to an increase of religious groups choosing to meet in a host city. After Pittsburgh hosted the 2004 event, that city booked 188,000 hotel room nights from other religious conferences. Tampa gained 175,000 nights following the 2002 RCMA meeting held there.

Religious meeting planners make up a good portion of the RCMA membership list, and Korn hopes at least 400 attend the four-day conference here and get to know the city better. Other members are suppliers to the convention industry. Korn said the bureau also invited religious meeting planners based in Michigan who aren’t association members.

“This is the opportunity for us to catapult ourselves into being a host city for religious conferences,” said Korn.

RCMA CEO and Executive Director DeWayne Woodring told the Business Journal he expects more than 1,300 delegates will attend the Grand Rapids convention, which is the 37th annual meeting of the group, but the very first held here.

“Incidentally, our members plan 16,375 conventions and meetings, which annually attract nearly 15 million attendees,” said Woodring.

The RCMA has nearly 3,400 total members, and its meeting planners represent almost 1,000 denominations and religious organizations. The convention will offer delegates a choice of 17 topics, ranging from how to get the most from a site visit to how to work as a team to plan a meeting and how to be a world-class negotiator.

Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Vice President George Helmstead has called the RCMA meeting the “Super Bowl of conventions.” To emphasize the importance this meeting has for the city, the CVB created a host committee for the conference headed by former Cornerstone University President Rex Rogers. The bureau feels up to $15 million in new meetings can be generated from the RCMA conference.

Although the city is in a deep freeze now, local meteorologists have called for an end-of-the-month thaw just about the time the RCMA convention opens — almost like Heartwell predicted.

“They were also amused that we heat our sidewalks,” said Korn of the reaction the bureau has received from RCMA members to its marketing campaign. “How do you describe a heated sidewalk to someone from Georgia?”

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