Experience the new bureau

September 7, 2010
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As a name, many might agree that “Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention and Visitors Bureau” is at least a tad bulky and maybe even downright clumsy. That’s probably why most people have referred to this nonprofit organization, which is vitally important to the region’s economic standing, as “the CVB” or just “the bureau.”

Agency officials hope that won’t be the case any longer.

“We’re rebranding our organization. As of Sept. 7, we will not be that long convoluted name that nobody gets right. We are going to be ‘Experience Grand Rapids,’” said Doug Small, Experience GR president. “Our mission — the task for us — has not changed.”

The name change is part of the strategic plan put together and approved by the bureau’s board in 2008. But it has only been during the last year that bureau officials dug into the change by researching the hospitality industry and offering the new name to focus groups, which gave favorable responses.

“A lot of input went into this. We didn’t just say, ‘We’d like to be Experience Grand Rapids’ and here are our reasons,” said Small. “It started, again, as one part of our whole rebranding.”

The idea is to more closely align the organization’s name with its core mission, which is to fill hotel rooms with visitors. But how that task gets done today is different from when the bureau was founded in the pre-Internet era. So with the rebranding also comes a brand new website.

VisitGrandRapids.org, the organization’s destination site, is now ExperienceGrandRapids.com. With the new site also comes a new marketing focus that will place a greater emphasis on social media.

“One of the things that Grand Rapids is too good at — if you want to use a play on words — is we’re too modest. We’ve got a right, when we’re going after national business, to really get out there and tell the story of Grand Rapids. So we’ve worked for the last year to try to reinvigorate or add a little more energy to the brand,” said Small.

“And marketing has got to be integrated. It can’t just be all website. It can’t just all be a print advertising campaign. It’s got to be ‘all of the above.’ But the electronic world has become very, very big in our universe as it relates to how people are getting their travel information. So we have done a complete, from the ground up, rebuild of our destination website.”

Small said 73 percent of the convention business that the bureau booked last year came from working with people who offered tips, suggestions and ideas regarding organizations with which they were familiar or to which they belonged. So the new thought is to entice more people to talk about their positive encounters here via ExperienceGrandRapids.com, which will offer links to the most-often used social sites and integrate the links and comments at the bureau’s virtual home.

“They can be out there using Twitter or Facebook or what-have-you to talk about their experiences in Grand Rapids and hope that word spreads so we build up more synergy and energy that results in more business down the line,” said Small. “So we’re introducing the website, talking about the social-media aspect of how our website works with that to ultimately meet our mission — and that is to drive more visitor traffic.”

According to Smith Travel Research, the occupancy rate this year at local hotels stood at 52.8 percent through July. Last year, the corresponding number was 50 percent. So far this year, the average room rate was $84.14 per night. In 2009, it was $85.60. Still, total room revenue through July was up by 3.6 percent from last year.

Experience GR Executive Vice President George Helmstead said his sales staff reached 46 percent of its goal for booking meetings this year by the end of July.

“We’re pretty confident we’ll meet our goal by the end of the year.”

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