CAA Eyes DeVos Strategy Change

    GRAND RAPIDS — A change in how local officials bid for large conventions may be coming in a few months.

    Right now, a tactical adjustment seems like it is needed because the new DeVos Place has moved the city up a notch or two in the industry and has put Grand Rapids in competition with bigger markets for national and regional conventions.

    George Helmstead, who directs sales activity for the Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the Convention and Arena Authority last week that he had hoped to have some good news for the board, namely that the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) had decided to hold its 2006 convention and annual meeting here.

    Helmstead wasn’t able to do that, though, as Denver ultimately was selected as the site late last week.

    Helmstead, however, was able to give board members some insight into how keenly competitive the meeting industry has become.

    The city was competing with Denver, Phoenix and Salt Lake City for the convention that would draw up to 8,000 delegates and be worth about $1.7 million to the local economy.

    The bureau hosted the USGBC site selection committee last month. After showing them the area and DeVos Place, Helmstead said he was told the local bid for the convention was more expensive than the bids submitted by officials from Denver and Salt Lake City.

    Why? Because both cities offered the USGBC free meeting space. Also, both cities have roughly 2,000 hotel rooms within walking distance of their respective convention centers, so neither had to include a transportation charge for shuttling delegates in their bid packages.

    Helmstead said local officials, including area hotel operators, met and submitted a new bid for the convention. The city’s second offer erased the charge to the council for a shuttle service that would bring its delegates to and from their hotels to the convention center.

    Free transit, Helmstead said, made the city’s bid more competitive and put it back into serious consideration by the council, but ultimately it wasn’t enough.

    “We did everything we could,” said Helmstead.

    CAA Chairman John Logie said his board was facing a new challenge to bring larger conventions here, as the city now finds itself going head to head with bigger cities for those meetings. He added that board members and CVB officials should get together in the near future to develop a new marketing and pricing strategy for larger conventions.

    “I predict that we are going to see this challenge again,” said Logie. 

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