Arts & Entertainment, Real Estate, and Travel & Tourism

Hotel occupancy rates continue gradual rise

Experience GR credits downtown skywalk, more nonstop flights for increasing percentage in Kent County.

November 9, 2018
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Amway Grand Plaza
Ross Bartlett, director of rooms for Amway Grand Plaza said winter events contribute well to the hotel's occupancy. Courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

The hotel occupancy rate in Kent County has been increasing slowly in recent years.

There are about 80 hotels with more than 8,100 hotel rooms in the county this year, according to Doug Small, president and CEO of Experience Grand Rapids. So far this year, the hotel occupancy rate is 68.9 percent. The rate mirrors the growth that has been inching upward in the county’s hospitality industry.

In 2017, the hotel occupancy rate was 67.2 percent, an increase from 66.7 percent in 2016.

While many of the visitors who come to Grand Rapids engage in leisurely activities during the warmer months, some of the increase in occupancy is derived from the winter months when conferences are held and draw significant groups of people to the county.

“Michigan-based associations, like the Michigan Education Association, hold many meetings every year, but most of them hold their annual meetings during the winter period, and the reason they do that is because they want to protect their summers to do other things,” Small said. “That is the best time in Michigan. We are fortunate that they meet here during the winter.”

He said some of the attractions that have drawn companies and organizations to meet in Grand Rapids during the winter include the skywalk and the airport.

The skywalk allows people to navigate their way from hotels to downtown venues without walking outside. The Gerald R. Ford International Airport has included multiple nonstop flights to Grand Rapids.

“The vast improvement both to the infrastructure and the facilities makes it easier and more efficient for passengers to get in and out of our airport as well as the increase in the number of flights, which adds seats to (our) destination, makes it easier for us to convince executives to meet here. So, the airport is a great asset for us to do that,” Small said.

Nicholas Remes, general manager for JW Marriott Grand Rapids in downtown, said fall is his hotel’s busiest season, thanks to the Wine, Beer and Food Festival, ArtPrize and other events. He said during that time, the JW Marriott has an occupancy rate that averages around 70 percent.

While fall is the busiest time of the year, Remes said winter has been steady over the past few years, but that wasn’t always the case.

“Between 2007 and 2011, the winter season was usually that slower season,” he said. “But now, you don’t really see much of a difference between January and March compared to the rest of the year these days. Occupancy is running pretty steadily now. Grand Rapids has been a busy, busy place, and with the economy the way that it is for corporations, it is driving travel toward us. During the recession, there were some days where there were some really low occupancies. Companies weren’t sending people to travel here, but that has since come and gone, and now, occupancies have picked up significantly.”

Ross Bartlett, director of rooms for Amway Grand Plaza, said the busiest time at the hotel is during the summer and fall months.

“We have seen an uptick with the growth of Grand Rapids being put on the map as a city not only being known for our beer scene but also for our food scene and our arts scene that has grown over the years with the museums and ArtPrize,” he said. “People are starting to realize that it is an intermediate city that has a lot to offer for not the price of Chicago or New York.”

However, the slowest time of the year for Amway is January, in part, because of the conclusion of the holiday season.

Nevertheless, he said there are different shows that take place at the DeVos Place in January like the Grand Rapids Camper Show, Travel & RV Show; Grand Rapids Remodeling & New Homes Show; and the Grand Rapids Bridal Show that bring visitors downtown.

Bartlett said there are other activities and events during the winter season that have contributed to the hotel’s occupancy, such as Grand Rapids Griffins games, the Winter Beer Festival in February, skiing, snowshoeing and the proximity of Riverside Park.

“Winter is a beautiful time in Grand Rapids, and where the Amway is located, we have something for everyone,” he said. “The minimal walking that we have with the skywalk and being positioned downtown puts us at an advantage to be able to get all of our visitors wherever they want to go in a hop, skip and a jump.”

Kent County Hotels
Year end

Hotel occupancy percentage 

Average daily rate
2013 63.4 percent $97.48
2014 64.6 percent $100.97
2015 67.5 percent $109.12
2016 66.7 percent $113.71
2017 67.2 percent $117.63

2018 (year to date)

68.9 percent $119.02

Source: Experience Grand Rapids 

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