At press time hotel and motel managers and owners throughout Kent County were mailing ballots to determine the extent of the largest marketing campaign ever proposed for this area. The $1.1 million in annual spending is unprecedented, but more importantly, so too is the cooperative regional effort fueling the initiative.
All West Michigan businesses — not just tourism — will benefit from the national marketing effort as the “domino effect” provides for recruitment of high tech workers to West Michigan.
Just a few years ago convention and tourism bureaus throughout the four-county metro region were obligated to represent only their dues-paying members, thereby confining promotional efforts and often duplicating those of neighboring communities.
As recently as three years ago it would have been hard to imagine Lakeshore communities giving up any amount of their funding to support initiatives proposed by the Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention and Visitors Bureau. The completion of the DeVos Place convention center looms, however, with the equally large task of filling it year-round.
The big picture given recognition in this marketing effort is but a piece of the even bigger whole. As hotel/motel owners in Kent County determine their willingness to increase their marketing assessment by 1 percent, Ottawa, Allegan and Muskegon establishments are being asked to ante up the remaining $250,000 needed.
Businesses that call any of these communities home also should see the opportunity to contribute to the fundraising effort as an investment in their future workforce and in the regional economic vitality.
While the united effort is itself laudable, the return on the investment — estimated at $15 million (or 15-to-1) — is remarkable, especially considering the recent declines in other investment vehicles. Tourism alone already generates a $150 million economic impact in the four counties.
Unlike all previous tourism marketing campaigns, which targeted a specific state or region of the country, the West Michigan initiative will blanket the U.S. in staged phases. The Grand Rapids/Kent County Bureau has hired Bill Siegel, president of a Toronto-based research firm, to conduct critical elements of the campaign. Siegel commented, “I guarantee you the problem here is not the tourism product. It’s getting the message out.”
No one in West Michigan would disagree. BXJ