Local hotels reach three year highs as visitors stay

October 25, 2010
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Kent County hotel performance during both August and September exceeded expectations.

According to data provided by Experience Grand Rapids (the new moniker for the Convention and Visitors Bureau) from Smith Travel Research Inc., hotel revenue in August and September was 19.2 percent and 39 percent higher than the same months in 2009, respectively. Occupancy percentages were also impressively higher: August was up 18.7 percent and September 32.4 percent.

During each month, the community hosted several national conventions, and the Chihuly exhibition at Meijer Gardens continued to draw out-of-town visitors. ArtPrize drew visitors during the last couple weeks of September.

Year-to-date hotel performance also is trending in the right direction in Kent County, as well as the rest of the state and the country. Kent County hotel occupancy year-to-date is up 9.7 percent and hotel revenue is up 9 percent. As a comparison, hotel occupancy in the state year-to-date is up 9.6 percent and in the U.S. 5.2 percent.

Hotel revenue in Michigan year-to-date is up 7 percent and the U.S. has gained 6.8 percent. While Michigan and the rest of the U.S. experienced gains, Kent County’s year-to-date gains are more impressive.

Notably, hotel revenue in each of August and September totaled more than $10,000,000, according to the report. This marks the highest months of hotel revenue since October 2007.

All ‘fore’ Pure Michigan

Hotel and tourist officials have credited the state’s Pure Michigan advertising campaign for a continued surge in attracting visitors. And, despite ongoing haggles between state legislators and Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s office, they aren’t the only ones.

Capital News Service correspondent Julie Wang discovered golf course operators in the state also welcome a continuation of state advertising dollars that indirectly support their businesses.

Advertisements and promotions may lure out-of-state golfers, but golf courses still depend mostly on local players.

Matt Pinter, coordinator of the professional golf management program at Ferris State University, has about 235 students in the program, which prepares them to run small businesses like golf courses and work at golf facilities.

“I hope the state recognizes the importance of the recreation and tourism industry and that it will probably be number one someday, replacing manufacturing, and that they promote it as such,” said Pinter.

Tourism is the third-largest industry in the state. Manufacturing is the largest and agriculture is second.

Michigan Golf Course Owners Association Executive Director Kate Moore said, “The Pure Michigan ads have had a major impact — it’s got people thinking about golf.”

Kirsten Borgstrom, public relations consultant for Travel Michigan, works with travel writers and Michigan golf courses to promote the state.

“We’ve hosted familiarization tours as a way to get people into the state. We bring travel writers into the state, showing them the golf course, letting them play on the golf course to see the quality of the golf course,” Borgstrom said.  “We’ve been doing this about six years, but the past few years we’ve been really serious about this.”

Promotions and marketing have drawn many inquiries from the southern United States. “Since the Pure Michigan campaign had national reach as of two years ago, we’ve gotten a number of phone calls from Texas, Missouri and other people down south,” Borgstrom said.

“In Texas, by the time it hits noon, it’s too hot and golfing is no longer enjoyable. But in Michigan, people can golf in the morning, noon and evening.”

Jim Scott, owner of Gull Lake View Golf Resort in Augusta, said, “Golfers are good tourists to attract because these people come up here and spend quite a bit of money and add a good section to the tourism industry.”

Scott has seen results from the marketing and promotion Travel Michigan has done. “My experience with the Pure Michigan ads are that they are relatively effective,” said Scott. “At a Cincinnati golf show two years ago, a new show for us, we had several people comment on seeing the ads. They wanted to try to play in Michigan. Our out-of-state business has continued to grow these last three to four years.”

Hawk Hollow Golf Course in Bath has hosted writers from Golf Digest and has had some out-of-state clients, said Jim Balasis, pro shop manager.

“Good publishing helps us put the best face out in these times, but great service brings people back, and we try to please all the people,” Balsis said.

Jay Eccleton, director of golf course operations at the Emerald Golf Course in St. Johns, has seen business decrease over the last five to six years. “The majority of our clientele are locals from surrounding areas about a one-hour radius away, but since 2002 to 2003, I’ve seen a steady decrease,” said Eccleton. “Outings and events are where we make the majority of our money.”

Golf outings and events are commonly organized by businesses or companies but may be fundraisers too.

Pinter said, “A decrease in business is typical of the state economy. It’s a tough economy right now.

“I found out over the summer that some golf courses are just trying to keep their heads above water and hope the economy improves.”

Welcome to Greenerville

When George Bosanic starts itemizing what’s on the rooftops in Greenville, it’s easy to see why he hopes someday people will think the town’s name is really Greenerville.

A three-way partnership of the city, the Greenville Public Schools system and United Solar has resulted in the installation of solar-generating equipment now producing more than 500 kilowatts of power at peak sunshine.

All of it is Uni-Solar brand equipment made in Greenville by United Solar, a subsidiary of Energy Conversion Devices in Rochester Hills. United Solar’s PowerTilt commercial solar panels are now on five city-owned properties — including City Hall — and two schools.

“This represents about 10 percent of our goal” of some day producing a total of 6 megawatts from the sun shining on Greenville, said Bosanic, the Greenville city manager.

“Of course, our official name is Greenville, but through this project we hope to be known as Greenerville, with an end goal of being known someday as Greenestville,” joked Bosanic.

Bosanic and Greenville school superintendent Pete Haines started it all in February 2009, when the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was passed. So far, stimulus funds and other grants have covered about 70 percent of the cost, according to Bosanic. Some of the installations are part of the Consumers Energy Experimental Advanced Renewable Program, in which the utility buys the electricity and adds it to the grid.

Community banks provided bonds for the project, which will be paid off half-way through the life of the equipment. Bosanic said that means the city and schools should have about 13 years of virtually free electricity after that.

A couple of weeks ago, Gov. Jennifer Granholm stopped in Greenville to see for herself how the community is shifting some of its electrical load to green energy equipment, produced by a local company that employs from 380 to 400 people.

Other communities, particularly in the American Southwest, have heard about “Greenerville” and contacted City Hall to see how it might work for them.

Bosanic said he believes Greenville now has the largest collection of solar generators in the state, “and hopes to become the first municipal government in the country that is 100 percent alternative energy.”

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