Visitors Bureau Close To 300
DeVos Place Meetings

July 9, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Convention and Visitors Bureau is getting close to having booked 300 conventions and trade shows at DeVos Place, the city’s convention center.

Bureau Vice President of Sales George Helmstead recently announced that his staff had just closed on the 295th meeting since the building opened. He said he hopes to hit 300 soon, as the bureau is making pitches to five groups this summer.

For the just-completed fiscal year, 158 meetings brought 142,520 delegates through the convention center’s doors. Various educational groups met 28 times last year; 29,275 attended those meetings. Medical and health groups held 17 meetings and drew 5,870 participants. Toys and hobby associations leased exhibit space a dozen times last year and brought 14,000 into the building.

Conventions and trade shows were worth $1.8 million in event income to the Convention and Arena Authority last year. The FY08 forecast put together by SMG, which oversees daily operations at

DeVos Place
, has the building hosting 153 meetings that should draw 193,000 delegates and be worth $2 million in event income.

Bureau President Steve Wilson said the CVB will be conducting two focus groups soon to learn how his staff can bring more organizations comprising African-Americans to the building. Wilson said they were looking to local African-American pastors for those insights.

But the CVB isn’t putting all of its efforts into the convention and trade show business, as the bureau also hopes to expand its marketing efforts to bring more tourists to the area. To do that, Wilson said the CVB has set its sights on luring people here from two markets and for a longer tourism season. The new marketing strategy, though, depends on whether the bureau can increase its annual budget from the current $3 million to a proposed $5 million.

“Our plan right now, because of our limited budget, is only 13 weeks during the heart of the summer,” Wilson said. “So we want to broaden that, beginning at spring break and going through the fall color tour season. So additional money would be used to stretch out the calendar of when we’re advertising.

“The second part of expanding the leisure travel advertising is to go into new markets. Specifically, we’d like to joint venture with Travel Michigan in Chicago. So we want to take a very strong message of a ‘Pure Michigan’ banner and ‘Michigan’s West Coast’ to Chicago,” he added.

Wilson said the bureau is also considering taking its message to northern Michigan. Residents in cities such as Petoskey, Cheboygan and Traverse City would be invited to come here in early spring and late fall, before and after the summer travel season in those places.

“Our idea is to hit them in the shoulder seasons: in early spring, when we have lots of offerings culturally, with the gardens and the butterflies and the museums, and in the fall, too,” he said. “Then combine shopping. They look to RiverTown Crossings and Woodland mall as larger regional shopping areas than they have in Northern Michigan. It really makes a nice spring or fall getaway.”

Radio ad rates in northern Michigan are a lot less than the same charges are in Chicago.

“For us, we can buy advertising on a very reasonable basis there,” said Wilson

Legislation introduced by State Rep. Michael Sak, D-Grand Rapids, and passed by both chambers, is the vital piece to whether the bureau can increase its marketing budget by $2 million and initiate its new marketing strategy. The bill lets county hotels with at least 35 rooms charge their guests an additional 2 percent tax on room tabs.

The CVB, though, only wants a 1 percent increase, and that hike has been estimated to give the bureau another $1 million that it would put in its marketing budget. But two things have to happen before the bureau can collect those dollars.

The Kent County Lodging Association has to agree to charge the tax.

But first, Gov. Jennifer Granholm has to sign the legislation.

“We’re hoping in the next few days she will sign it,” said Wilson.     

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