Hotels a top beneficiary of successful promotions

December 20, 2010
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The success of the Experience Grand Rapids convention and visitors bureau’s first Restaurant Week in Grand Rapids is given evidence in the numbers this week as final tallies are reviewed. The 57 restaurant owners who participated in the inaugural event in November saw $1.2 million in sales related to the event — well more than the anticipated $500,000 in sales — prompting some to refer to the 10-day activity as an “ArtPrize for foodies.” And the group is now clamoring for more — two such events in 2011.

The CVB, however, has many masters to serve, and while its leaders have proven to be helpful to each, the bottom line for the bureau is still “heads in beds,” and the economic development links created by bringing travelers to the Grand Rapids region. Even while ArtPrize attracts thousands of people to the downtown area, the fans tend to be located regionally, which does not translate as well as was hoped to hotel/motel night reservations.

That said, Experience Grand Rapids President Doug Small is cautiously opening the door for discussion of the event, or two, next year. Restaurant owners are commended for the collaboration apparent in the inaugural planning and for their enthusiasm to grow the event. That does not directly answer the mission for the CVB, however, unless planning begins to include a marketing budget that extends past this region and state lines. Dozens of cities host similar events and are rightly protective of such revenue streams, so it may be that Small should begin a U.S. Restaurant Week exchange, offering full package deals from the airline and hotel industries to those who might enjoy foodie experiences in other cities, like Grand Rapids.

This could complement and extend the continuum of new successes this year at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport. The efforts of the Air Alliance of West Michigan, a group of business representatives who met toe-to-toe with airline officials, has significantly decreased travel costs to and from GRR. Their success was abetted by the landing of discount airline AirTran, which will merge with Southwest in the New Year. Passenger traffic is up almost 18 percent over 2009, but keeping the low-cost carriers is dependent upon continued increases from the Grand Rapids airport.

Small and Experience Grand Rapids were recognized this year with the Governor’s Award for Innovative Tourism collaboration during the Pure Michigan Governors Conference, saluting efforts that brought the 2009 Religious Conference Management Association to the city. The statewide collaboration created a “welcome to Michigan” ceremony for the group.

Experience Grand Rapids also will see links this year to the Pure Michigan campaign focusing on individual regions of the state. The opportunities available should be specific to the bureau’s mission: booking hotel rooms. Airport and restaurant business increases are companion to that mission.

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