Focus and Travel & Tourism

Conventions are putting heads in beds in Grand Rapids

Meetings, sporting events and all kinds of travel are leading to record hotel revenues.

July 25, 2014
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Convention activity at DeVos Place is resulting in more bookings for downtown hotels, as well as those in the surrounding areas. Courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

The convention and tourism climate in Grand Rapids is still on the upswing, with 2014 on target to be the fourth consecutive year of record room revenue, according to Janet Korn, Experience Grand Rapids senior vice president.

She said hotel occupancy is measuring more than 63 percent year-to-date and hotel room rates also are trending upward, leading to record hotel room revenue.

“This number is a true representation of the impact of convention group business, sports tournaments, leisure travel and corporate business travel to Kent County,” Korn said.

Hotel revenue projections for the rest of 2014 are not yet available, but with several conventions still remaining before the end of the year — including the American Quilter’s Society, which last year drew 21,000 visitors — it is likely be a good number.

“We expect that 2014 will be another great year for conventions, with 284 groups hosted, which will generate over $156 million in total business sales for the local economy,” Korn said.

Conventions are particularly important to Grand Rapids and Kent County because of their greater economic impact on the community and their potential for bringing new faces to the city — visitors who may even plan a return trip.

“The value of tourism in Kent County is $1.175 billion in economic impact each year, which has the long-term impact of fueling jobs, supporting dining opportunities and cultural improvements, and improving the quality of life within the community,” Korn said.

Grand Rapids remains a growing contender for attracting large conventions with several helpful assets to woo annual conference organizers.

Korn pointed to safety, walkability and more than 90 downtown dining options, including fabulous farm-to-table restaurants, as some of the key features the city has to offer.

“And recently, Grand Rapids was recognized as a top 10 emerging downtown,” she added, referring to a 2013 listing by Forbes highlighting 15 cities in the United States.

And in case you are wondering, those “best of” lists do help.

“National lists and third-party recognitions are important to supporting our work as a destination marketing organization. The lists induce people to look closer — those who might ignore traditional advertising,” she said.

Recent recognitions include: One of the Most Underrated Places in the U.S. (Global Yodel), Third Best Mid-Size Cities for Jobs in 2014 (Forbes), 9th out of 10 of America’s Most Exciting Mid-Sized Cities (MOVOTO Blog), One of 10 Best Places to Visit in U.S. (Amtrak), One of 50 States, 50 Spots for 2014 (CNN), One of 14 Destinations for Your Travel Bucket List (Huffington Post), and the one that had everybody from Grand Rapids shouting from the rooftops — No. 1 Top U.S. Destination in 2014 (Lonely Planet).

In addition to the lists and the city’s great attractions, the facilities are pretty great, too, Korn said. DeVos Place Convention Center is a 160,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility in proximity to 1,436 hotel rooms.

“In addition, we promote facilities and hotels throughout the Kent County area for meetings, conferences and events of all sizes and types,” she said.

The city also continues to see airfare service increase at Gerald R. Ford International Airport. Landing low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines, which started service last August, was an important achievement for attracting visitors, Korn said.

Some of the sectors Experience Grand Rapids continues to work on are national and international brand recognition.

“Grand Rapids has the infrastructure, services, amenities and collaborative spirit to compete, but we still need to continue to evolve as a brand that meeting executives trust in,” Korn said.

Conventions still to come in 2014 include: 101st Airborne Division Association, American Quilter’s Society, Governor’s Highway Safety Association, Society of Forensic Toxicologists, Michigan Farm Bureau, Gymnastics on the Grand, and Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable & Farm Market Expo. 

There are an additional 10 citywide meetings and events still to take place in 2014.

The 2015 list of conventions is still growing, but Experience Grand Rapids said confirmed conferences include: Church of the United Brethren in Christ; National Association of Free Will Baptists; National Association of Pastoral Musicians; USA/Canada Lions Leadership Forum; and the American Quilter’s Society.

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