Embassy Suites, in the Monroe North neighborhood, is one of the hotels that brought in a collective $226 million in revenue last year. Courtesy Suburban Inns
Kent County hotels saw revenue growth in 2019 for the tenth consecutive year.
Hotels in the county brought in $226 million in revenue last year, an increase of 4.6% from 2018, according to Experience Grand Rapids, Kent County’s marketing arm. This accounts for 2,048,881 total rooms occupied in 2019, an increase of 5.5% from 2018.
The past decade’s momentous growth in business investment and development has assisted with the rising tourism numbers, Experience GR said.
In 2009, Kent County hotel room revenue was $104 million.
“This growth is thanks to the continuous community support, collaboration and development,” said Doug Small, Experience GR president and CEO. “We’ve also watched Grand Rapids build a ‘cool’ reputation that becomes more recognizable every year.”
The organization credits the craft beer scene for helping lead the charge of creating Grand Rapids as a “tourism destination,” which led to its recognition in 2013 as “Beer City, USA” by Examiner.com. Since then, it has become an important part of the community culture and an economic driver, Experience GR said.
The organization found the economic impact of beer tourism in 2015 was $12.23 million. In its 2019 economic impact study, that number was reported as $38.5 million.
“This proves that the local breweries have created an exceptional beer scene while also staying in step with the growth of culinary tourism,” Experience GR said.
Janet Korn, senior vice president for Experience GR, said tourism trends point to continued culinary tourism growth in 2020.
“We’ve found that our breweries are trendsetters as they create unique and delicious menus that make them not only popular breweries but staple restaurants,” Korn said.
Experience GR made a point of highlighting this scene in destination marketing efforts, such as the eighth annual Cool Brews. Hot Eats. event during Beer Month GR and the video series “Beer City Eats.”
Another growing trend in Grand Rapids is the live music scene, which attracts concert attendees and becomes a driver for tourism. In 2018, 13% of people reported their primary purpose for visiting Grand Rapids was to attend a special event, according to market research consultancy Longwoods International. That rate outpaced the national trend for special events by 5% and grew 3% compared to 2017.
Kent County hotels also reported in a survey last year that they’ve seen an increase in small groups coming for concerts, Experience GR said. This growth is in part to the variety of music venues and music genres performing in the area. The newest venue addition in Grand Rapids is the Listening Room in Studio Park downtown.
Rich MacKeigan, regional manager of SMG, which oversees the Van Andel Arena, DeVos Performance Hall and DeVos Place, has told the Business Journal that Grand Rapids now is a “known player in the live entertainment world.”
In addition to marketing efforts, Experience GR said it has made it a priority to assist the hospitality industry as a whole and, in turn, help the local community.
In 2019, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Experience GR, AHC+Hospitality and Grand Valley State University implemented the first National Academy Foundation Hospitality & Tourism academy. The goal of the Ottawa Hills Hospitality Academy is to introduce high school students with career options in hospitality while also diversifying the industry.
Looking to the future, Experience GR said it plans to stay in step with travel trends to continue to drive leisure and convention business to the area.
“Staying up to date on the latest trends in tourism is important when it comes to promoting a place,” Small said. Lately, such trends include culinary tourism, outdoor adventure, wellness and “traveling like a local.”
Last year, Grand Rapids was named the No. 1 food city in Michigan by Thrillist. Earlier this year, Michigan was named the top destination for outdoor enthusiasts by TripSavvy.
“With this information in mind, our job is to work with and support our stakeholders and partners to strengthen the destination while also sharing the story of the cool things to do in Grand Rapids,” Small said.