Hotels book record-breaking year


Experience Grand Rapids is Kent County's destination marketing organization that attracts visitors by “getting the word out about things to do in Grand Rapids.” Photo by Johnny Quirin

Hotels in Kent County reported record-breaking sales in 2014, signaling another year of growth in tourism.

Experience Grand Rapids, or EXGR, the area’s destination marketing organization, reported yesterday that 2014 hotel room revenue outpaced 2013 by 10.1 percent, leading to the "highest county-wide revenue ever."

"Hotel room revenue is a key metric for measuring tourism activity,” said Doug Small, president, EXGR.

The numbers mark the fifth straight annual increase in hotel revenues.

The growth has a lot to do with visitors’ interest in craft beer, culinary tourism, distinct cultural attractions and events like ArtPrize and LaughFest.

EXGR said hotel room revenue growth has increased due to leisure tourism, strong convention attendance and the area’s growing business economy.

Visitor friendly

Additionally, Small pointed to EXGR investments in making Grand Rapids more visitor-centric.

"In August 2013, we launched the Grand Rapids Certified Tourism Ambassador program,” Small said. “To date, we have trained over 1,400 people, and we have been recognized as the fastest-growing CTA network in the country."

A national training program, CTA provides destination training to boost staff’s understanding of the region and activities in the market. The program focuses on training people on the “front lines,” or those most likely to interact with visitors.

The program’s goal is to increase the quality of customer service a visitor receives anywhere around town where they ask for advice on what to do while visiting.

During 2014, in partnership with Steelcase and Gerald R. Ford International Airport, EXGR also revamped the airport visitor information space with new furnishings and interactive walk-up screens to further enhance the visitor welcome for airport travelers.

Convention growth

Grand Rapids’ momentum is positively impacting the city’s ability to attract new conventions and meetings.

“Our convention sales team finished strong with a record number of contracted future conventions, meetings and sporting tournament rooms booked in 2014,” Small said. “That bodes well for hotel revenue growth in 2015 and beyond.”

With a growing interest in Grand Rapids as a convention location, EXGR saw an opportunity to expand its reach as an organization.

In 2014, EXGR added a national sales manager based in Washington, D.C., who will promote the Grand Rapids area to national convention planners in D.C., Virginia and Maryland.

Washington, D.C. is home to the largest number of headquarters for national associations. More than 60 national destinations have sales offices in the nation’s capital.

Digital draw

EXGR also experienced digital success this past year, with a 32-percent increase in the number of visits to in 2014. The site also saw a 27-percent increase in traffic from search engines.

"Increases in tourism are due in part to great work by our destination marketing team," said Janet Korn, senior VP, EXGR.

Korn said the team created “fresh and relevant content,” which it then “effectively distributed and optimized using the EXGR website, social media and search engines.”

“Plus, our investment with the 'Pure Michigan' campaign continues to promote our destination to new audiences,” Korn said.


EXGR is confident that 2015 will be another record year for the tourism industry in Kent County.

The organization is projecting hotel room revenue to grow another 5 percent over the next 12 months.

"Grand Rapids tourism has a lot to look forward to in 2015,” Small said. “Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park will open the Richard and Helen DeVos Japanese Garden, the Grand Rapids Public Museum will host the ‘King Tut’ exhibit, the Tanger Outlets mall will open in the fall and key destination distinct events like LaughFest and ArtPrize continue to expand and attract new audiences. Additionally, the popularity of craft beer and culinary tourism continues to grow.” 

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