Lakeshore CVBs Embarrass All

December 13, 2002
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Grand Rapids Business Journal reports this week another joint venture designed to promote conventions and tourism for West Michigan through a program launched last year by Travel Michigan. Eight to 10 separate tourism bureaus in West Michigan have agreed to help fund and participate in the "Beachtowns" campaign, including those that last week made a well publicized slap at the "Michigan's West Coast" campaign coordinated by the Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The GR/KC CVB has worked most of this year with an international consulting team to provide an appeal that is undoubtedly regional in its approach. Focus groups and surveys to travelers provided plenty of information upon which the regional partnership might act. Survey results, for instance, show that 45 percent of the 2.5 million visitors to Grand Rapids never visited the lakeshore communities, and that 40 percent of the 2.2 million visiting Holland, Muskegon or Saugatuck never visited Grand Rapids. The opportunity to further the goals of any one tourism group is obvious in those numbers, without even considering expanded promotions proposed in the coming year. The goals and objectives for the 2003 plan came most specifically from an international, professional consulting group, not any one bureau.

What is most disappointing in a year of tough fundraising and declining budgets is the unconscionable rejection of an entire program under the guise of a fear that Grand Rapids might benefit "more" from the proposed program. Kindergartners need supervision, and Grand Rapids Business Journal is suggesting exactly that type of oversight, particularly for the Saugatuck/Douglas Convention and Visitors Bureau whose vociferous spokesperson went so far as to suggest that business leaders who do not own a tourism-related outlet should not be allowed to participate in the decision-making process. The "us vs. them" mentality should not be allowed to stand in an informed, progressive, world-class community that businesses have worked so long to build. It's a tremendous embarrassment to us all.

Shall we ban any Grand Rapidian from spending their money in Saugatuck/Douglas restaurants, marinas, performing arts theaters or events, and community, just in case Saugatuck "gets more" from the sheer number of possible GR customers, or preclude any convention or tour group from lakeshore visitation as the new center opens and crowds swell?

The Saugatuck and Grand Haven groups are predictably non-participants in the Strategic Alliance, a group born in Holland and Grand Haven with ample projections and reasons to behave in a regional approach to all community issues. One can only fear that new information and education would cause a change in behavior.

Travel Michigan Director George Zimmerman rhetorically commented in regard to the "Beachtowns" promotion, "How do we keep generating results with either flat or falling marketing dollars? Partnerships are one of the ways we are going to keep that going."

The comments proffered by the Saugatuck group in particular are not just maddening but a fraud in terms of making the dollars available stretch farther or in acting as good stewards of other people's money.

We must note that the Muskegon County Convention & Visitors Bureau did not follow in lemming fashion the decisions of their southern neighbors, as did Holland and Grand Haven. In fact, its board "enthusiastically" endorsed the proposed campaign. Director Joanne Hatch commented, "In terms of do we want a regional marketing approach? Of course. It's a region. I don't see (GR/KC) eroding our tourism product. I see them enhancing it."

That's what we thought.           

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