GH Returns To Tourism Fold

    GRAND HAVEN — Creation of a marketing committee with representatives from lakeshore communities was enough to lure the Grand Haven/Spring Lake Visitors Bureau to rejoin a $1 million annual marketing campaign that will seek to boost West Michigan’s tourism trade.

    The marketing panel would give participating communities a voice in the “Michigan’s West Coast” campaign that’s designed to promote Grand Rapids as a place for conventions and meetings and the entire region as a vacation destination.

    “It would pretty much assure communications and that’s what everybody was unhappy about,” said Mo Rave, chairman of the Grand Haven-Spring Lake Visitors Bureau board of directors and owner of the Kardomah Lodge bed and breakfast in Grand Haven. “They came up with a plan and we certainly hope it works out.”

    Reversing an earlier position taken with visitors bureaus in Holland and Saugatuck, directors of the Grand Haven/Spring Lake bureau voted last week to endorse the Michigan’s West Coast initiative, spearheaded by the Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

    Prior to the decision in Grand Haven, Muskegon was the only lakeshore community agreeing to participate in the promotion, which organizers will unveil today at the Economic Club of Grand Rapids. Directors at the Holland Area Visitors Bureau, as of last week, have not considered whether to change their position, and the Saugatuck Douglas Visitors Bureau will not reconsider.

    The formation of a marketing committee, with two tourism representatives from each participating lakeshore community and five from the Grand Rapids/Kent County CVB, is a “new and significant” addition to the West Coast campaign, Rave said.

    “If it, in fact, becomes reality we would be pleased to lend our support as a partner in the Michigan’s West Coast initiative,” Rave said. “The Grand Haven/Spring Lake Visitors Bureau has always been in favor of regional, cooperative marketing projects.”

    The Grand Haven, Saugatuck and Holland visitor bureaus decided late last year to pull out of the promotion, claiming its scope had changed from their original understanding of marketing Grand Rapids as a convention destination. The change in direction, they contended, was made without any input from participating bureaus.

    “It was a program that represented us and we had no information about it at all,” Rave said.

    The complaints at the time centered on the change toward targeting the leisure travel market in the same Midwestern cities where the lakeshore bureaus already promoted their communities. Bureau directors worried that doing so would essentially create competition for themselves and that Grand Rapids was trying to build its convention and leisure travel business at the expense of the lakeshore communities.

    Backers of the West Coast campaign say the opposite is true and that building both the leisure travel and convention business benefits the entire region. Research data from Longwoods International, the consulting firm that developed the campaign, concluded that the best way to promote Grand Rapids as a convention destination is to market the entire region as an attractive place to visit.

    Participating lakeshore communities may then receive a residual benefit, campaign organizers say.

    “This is about growing everyone’s business in West Michigan,” said Steve Wilson, president of the Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It is very important to West Michigan that we leverage new convention business for the benefit of all communities throughout the region.”

    In response to the withdrawal of Saugatuck, Holland and Grand Haven, supporters of the regional effort reached out to political leaders in each lakeshore community to secure some semblance of local support and participation.

    Grand Rapids Mayor John Logie proposed formation of the marketing committee to generate support and participation among the region’s mayors and visitors bureaus boards and directors to work together and implement the campaign.

    “I am hopeful this proposal will enable the cities of Holland, Grand Haven, Muskegon and Grand Rapids to work cooperatively under the common banner of Michigan’s West Coast in order to bring significantly increased tourism to the region,” Logie said.

    The outreach didn’t work in Saugatuck, where the political leadership opted to stay out of the fray and the Saugatuck-Douglas Visitors Bureau has no plans to reconsider its withdrawal since the campaign’s scope and aim hasn’t changed.

    “We want to move on to more productive things and put this behind us,” Visitors Bureau Executive Director Felicia Fairchild said.

    Politicizing the situation merely caused the Saugatuck bureau to solidify its position and sets what Fairchild considers a bad precedent for future regional cooperation on many fronts in West Michigan and whether it would occur on an equal footing with Grand Rapids.

    Fairchild and others worry about local control and identity and “not being swept up in the big political machine,” Fairchild said.

    “It’s not about the advertising campaign,” Fairchild said. “This is a wake-up call to every small community and every small business person. This is how we may all be dealt with in the future on regional issues if we don’t choose to participate.”

    The West Coast campaign will use $750,000 in print, broadcast and outdoor advertising and e-mail to promote the region. Television ads will air in Toledo, Ohio, Ft. Wayne, South Bend/Elkhart and Indianapolis, Ind., and Detroit.

    The campaign, which requires a $250,000 public fund-raising effort, will launch in March with broadcast ads starting in May.

    The Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau will also spend $100,000 to market Grand Rapids as a convention destination and $125,000 on a national public relations campaign.

    Creative elements of the print ads show the sun setting behind the lighthouse on Grand Haven’s south pier with the words “From The Great Lake,” accompanied by an image of downtown Grand Rapids with “To The Grand City.”

    The Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau has also created a Regional Advisory Council consisting of interested parties and participants who will serve as “ambassadors” of the program and help communicate its importance, establish credibility and “create a sense of ownership among all stakeholders within each community.”

    Forming the advisory council shows the Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau is “committed to a set of guiding principles which preserve the integrity of the local destinations within the region,” Wilson said.           

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