Arts & Entertainment, Economic Development, and Travel & Tourism

Hotels are on pace to break records

Occupancy rates are 12.7 percent ahead of last year following a stellar summer.

September 18, 2015
| By Pat Evans |
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Bolstered by what is likely to be another successful ArtPrize, Experience Grand Rapids hopes Kent County will build on strong summer hotel numbers and see record hotel occupancy rates again in 2015.

If the forecast is accurate, it will be the sixth straight year of record hotel revenue growth. Experience Grand Rapids last week reported Kent County hotel occupancy in July was 81.2 percent, according to Smith Travel Research, the highest occupancy rate in county history.

The report said projected year-to-date numbers are 12.7 percent ahead of 2014, with August occupancy rates being between 80.5 and 81 percent.

“We are excited to see this continued momentum in tourism growth,” said Doug Small, Experience Grand Rapids president and CEO in a press release.

“There are other indicators pointing to gains in the tourism economy, including increased passenger numbers at Gerald R. Ford International Airport, the record number of summer visitors to Frederik Meijer Gardens, and the excitement (surrounding) the new shopping center Tanger Outlets.”

As ArtPrize intersects with an already intriguing fall season in West Michigan, Experience Grand Rapids expects hotels to be busy as the city also accommodates the normal traffic of conventions, business travel and social events, said Janet Korn, Experience Grand Rapids senior vice president.

Hotels aren’t the only businesses to see a boost from ArtPrize: Thousands of potential local-restaurant diners flood the streets.

Essence Restaurant Group, which includes Bistro Bella Vita, Green Well and Grove, sees an increase in business at all three of its locations compared to the weeks prior to and following the annual event, said Lauren Jaenicke, the group’s marketing and sustainability director.

Bistro Bella Vita is the only downtown location and also is an official ArtPrize venue. The Green Well and Grove are just outside of the downtown area.

The boost in customers requires the restaurants to practice effective purchasing and staffing scheduling.

Essence sees the annual event as an opportunity to show what Grand Rapids cuisine can be.

 “We generally have a lot of first-time and out-of-town guests, which is an excellent opportunity for us to provide them with exceptional service and locally sourced, creative cuisine,” Jaenicke said.

The increase in business at restaurants is mostly contained to downtown, however. RedWater Restaurant Group doesn’t usually see much of a bump, said Leanne Schaeffer, the group’s marketing and communications manager.

RedWater manages restaurants in Rockford, Cascade Township, Caledonia and Grandville.

Schaeffer did say, however, that Gravity Taphouse and Grille is gearing up for its first ArtPrize season due to its proximity to both I-96 and to Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. The restaurant opened last November.

Beyond ArtPrize, there are plenty of other factors convincing tourism officials the year will end on a high note, Small said.

“Following this record summer, we expect a strong finish for 2015,” Small said. “Grand Rapids visitors still have a lot to look forward to in the coming months, including ArtPrize, a new Public Museum exhibit, ‘American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition,’ and the return of the holiday season and ‘The Nutcracker’ in December performed by the Grand Rapids Ballet Company. We anticipate the momentum from this summer will continue throughout fall and lead to another year of record growth for Kent County.”

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