Guest Column

City needs right hotel brands in the right locations

March 2, 2018
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In response to Doug Small’s comment that the current hotels being developed in Grand Rapids are the “wrong type” to draw larger conventions (“Further analysis needed for large hotel development,” GRBJ, Feb. 16, 2018), I would encourage taking a broader look.

I’m not saying the city doesn’t need more rooms in central downtown to make the DeVos Convention Center more successful as a convention site. But the regional hotel picture is more complex than that. In addition to the discussion of another large hotel in the central downtown district, we need the right brands, with specific amenities, in the right locations. 

This is insight only hotel developers and operators truly understand, and we do our analysis before we develop any new hotel. For example, our Embassy Suites project on North Monroe — which will reach the top out of construction soon — fills a major void. No other brand in the industry drives rates like Embassy to allow the property to offer superior amenities, including two-room suites, free cook to order breakfast, manager’s happy hour, river views and balconies, indoor pool with an indoor/outdoor hot tub overlooking the river and smaller event space for 250 with a balcony overlooking the river.

While the Business Journal editorial was focused on the viability of one large hotel and the convention business, I should point out our No. 1 demand generator at Suburban Inns hotels is local businesses, both big companies — like Amway, Bissell, Steelcase and others — and small businesses. Yes, Meijer Gardens, 20 Monroe, the Van Andel Arena and others help with the weekend demand, but the real increase in demand comes from our local companies and how well they are doing such that they bring people in for a variety of reasons midweek and all year-round. They also provide a large demand for smaller events and meetings that over time and collectively are a major driver of room rates and occupancy.

Also, the way locals and visitors see it, “downtown” Grand Rapids is more than a few square miles. Our North Monroe location for the Embassy Suites is an asset. This community just north of central downtown is becoming the best place in Grand Rapids to do business. It has developed an amazing vibe, great restaurants, the Sixth Street Bridge Park to relax in, the boardwalk and all with the same proximity to the demand generators of downtown as everyone else. 

I would also point out that hotel operators matter. It does seem like we hear about another new hotel coming to West Michigan weekly. But some of these projects are by outside developers with little to no experience in the business and not hoteliers who live in and are educated about the local market and their unique demand. These developers don’t understand hotel brands and what locations drive success in each brand. One would think the franchise companies would help guide them, but that’s not their role. Wall Street has immense pressure on the franchise companies’ growth in number of properties. So, they are not worried about how well the new properties perform, as long as they can get open and do enough business to stay open. 

Meanwhile, we actually operate all of the hotels we develop. And we are proud of the fact that Suburban Inns hotels operate in the top 15 percent of their brands. The Courtyard by Marriott in Holland is ranked by our guest surveys as No. 1 out of all Courtyards in the world, according to Feb. 22 reports.

So, I agree with Doug Small. We do not need more rooms for the sake of more rooms. The market is not running 75 percent-plus occupancy. But we definitely need developers to focus on the correct hotel brands in the correct markets around West Michigan. They all play a vital part in the hospitality ecosystem. If more developers and franchise companies would spend time on location, understanding market demand for amenities and specific hotel brands, Grand Rapids could have much more successful hotels operating in successful markets supporting local business and community growth.

Peter Beukema, CHA, is CEO and “visionary” of Suburban Inns.

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