A Vision for 2024 and beyond
As we close out another record year and look toward the future, the team at Experience Grand Rapids is driven by a powerful vision: To be the must-experience destination of the Midwest.
We’re well on our way.
Coming off a record year in 2022, when Kent County welcomed 21.1 million visitors who infused over $1.8 billion into our local economy, we saw continued, but slower, growth in our visitor economy in 2023.
As we welcome the new year, the comprehensive, data-driven Experience Grand Rapids 2024 Business Development Plan will be our guide to expanding or growing maximizing our visitor economy in 2024.
We set this course with the backing of our community. Our 2023 Kent County resident tourism sentiment study found that 90% of respondents believe that tourism is good for the local economy and benefits their communities. This community support serves as a foundation for our tourism growth strategy.
With this backing, EXGR showcases Kent County’s year-round appeal with a focus on the destination assets our community built:
- Arts and culture
- Beer and craft beverages
- Food and dining
- Live music and entertainment
- Convention and meeting venues, and
- Outdoor recreation and family fun
We’ll do that through a strategic and balanced approach that allocates 43% of our annual budget to destination marketing and 50% to convention & group sales.
Live music, craft beverages and exceptional dining options appeal to visitors and residents alike.
Photo by Ideology for Experience GR
At our core, we’re destination promoters or cheer leaders
Putting data, digital and technology to work
To help guide our work, we have invested in research and a new marketing dashboard that enables us to leverage traveler insights to track and amplify marketing efforts that convert to Kent County hotel bookings.
Applying what we’ve learned, we’ll expand our digital presence in 2024, emphasizing visual content—including our new convention marketing video—and harness the power of influencers to amplify brand pillar messages on social media. We’ll also up our game in advertising to the 50+ crowd, whose higher level of disposable income makes them a robust target for leisure travel.
Plus, we’ll enhance our events calendar, the most visited area of our website, to inspire travel and facilitate trip planning to our area. And we’ll continue to gather valuable data through enhanced email marketing and popular promotional giveaways that connect us directly with key audiences.
To augment these efforts, we’ll explore the role AI can and will play in our industry, and we’ll work to ensure its productive and ethical use in streamlining our internal processes and assisting us in becoming smarter marketers.
We’ll continue to integrate public relations in our marketing mix with a consistent, four-pronged approach: promoting our region as a top national destination, collaborating with other Michigan destinations to host travel influencers and journalists, highlighting brand pillar promotions across the region, and establishing EXGR as a community thought leader.
The sales team will ingnite meeting and convention business by attending tradeshows regionally and nationally.
Photo by Brian Kelly for Experience GR
Sales ignites meeting and convention business
While marketing shapes the brand, builds awareness and attracts leisure travelers, the sales and services team is key in cultivating and closing the deal on the conventions, meetings and group travel that drives big regional economic impact.
Meeting them where they are
In 2024, the team will attend 22 regional and national meeting and convention planning tradeshows to compete with top U.S. destinations at the nation’s major industry events. Plus, we’ll attend 12 group tour tradeshows to promote Grand Rapids as a tour destination.
With an eye on the important Michigan association meeting and convention business, we’ll continue to engage in regular outreach and events to cultivate relationships and build our brand among statewide association and meeting planning executives.
Bringing it home
We’ll bring qualified planners in for personalized site visits, and in January 2024, we’ll host Connect Midwest Marketplace, with 60 meeting planners coming to town to source future Midwest convention business.
And, of course, we will continue our strong partnership with the West Michigan Sports Commission to promote to and host youth and amateur sporting events that are vital to our visitor economy.
Service is Key
Once conventions are booked, our award-winning services team will put their deep industry knowledge and hospitality skills to work to help plan, organize and manage the events and ensure we deliver on our brand promise.
Support of the Academy of Hospitality and Tourism will help bridge the pipeline gap to industry jobs.
Photo by Rich P Photography
Building an infrastructure of justice, equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging
A commitment to justice, equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging (JEDI+B) is a throughline in all our work.
Therefore, embracing traveler diversity has emerged as a cornerstone for sustainable growth and resilience. By diversifying our sales and marketing target demographics, EXGR will:
- Tap multiple revenue streams
- Further ensure a stable influx of visitors throughout the year
- Safeguard against potential economic, political or social shifts
- Boost our appeal as an inclusive destination, and
- Stimulate various sectors of the local economy
But to be effective, we must be authentic. And to ensure a strong foundation for our work, we will collaborate with community partners to strengthen the JEDI+B infrastructure of our community and our visitor economy. That includes partnering on workforce development, diversifying our supplier network and engaging our community to enhance the West Michigan destination experience.
For instance, the EXGR Board of Directors Workforce Development Task Force, that has partnered with staff to identify short- and long-term solutions to continued address a chronic underrepresentation of BIPOC individuals in the West Michigan hospitality industry, will work to establish a hospitality industry council guided by West Michigan Works!.
We will also continue to support the Grand Rapids Public Schools Academy of Hospitality and Tourism at Ottawa Hills High School, helping bridge the pipeline gap to industry jobs.
In 2024, we will build a robust diverse supplier pipeline that includes historically underutilized businesses and implement a supplier diversity plan that aligns with our organizational goals, drives business growth and resilience, enhances customer experience, and brings a wealth of benefits to our community.
Likewise, by meaningfully engaging a broader cross-section of our community, we can open new market opportunities, enhance the visitor experience, and support local artisans and entrepreneurs.
Thank you for your continued support. We’re confident that, with your partnership, we will become must-experience destination of the Midwest.