The role of destination marketing

Experience Grand Rapids uses an aggressive mix of marketing, group sales and promotional strategies to drive billions in visitor spending to our region.

Each year, we release end of year tourism economy data quantifying the annual impact of visitors on the West Michigan economy. In 2023, hotel room sales and revenue once again hit record highs. With 2.17 million rooms sold, Kent County hotels brought in over $258.9 million in revenue. That’s an additional 23,134 hotel rooms and more than $10.2 million in hotel revenue growth over 2022.

After a couple very rough pandemic years, that was an exhilarating moment for us and for the many partners who have a hand in making Grand Rapids and Kent County an exceptional destination. And while we certainly basked in the moment, we also recognized that it was about so much more than annual economic impact. It was also about the people behind the spend.

Couples enjoying a summer concert at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, 2023
Friends dining at Monsoon

Visitors appreciate our live music scene and outstanding restaurant options.

Photo by Ideology for Experience GR

The people who visit

Those record-setting numbers were generated by business travelers who came in for conventions, meetings, events and group tours and by leisure visitors drawn by friends, family and this fabulous destination.

These are people who admired the world class sculptures and botanical wonders at Meijer Gardens. People who took in the inspiring collections at the GRAM and the Grand Rapids Public Museum. People who experienced the fun of Beer City and the outstanding food scene in our downtown and eclectic neighborhoods throughout the community. People entertained by the ballet, symphony, opera, Broadway and community theater performances at venues large and small. People who cheered on the Griffins, Gold, Whitecaps and Rise. People who played in our parks and on our trails and nearby beaches. People who together as families enjoyed John Ball Zoo and the Grand Rapids Children's Museum.

People who felt the warmth and welcome of West Michigan and decided that they just have to come back for more—maybe even permanently.

Friends at the GR Downtown Market
Families and couples at Reeds Lake/ John Collins Park

Local amenities like shops and parks benefit residents and visitors alike.

Photo by Ideology for Experience GR

Visits build image and drive change

Studies show, tourism advertising not only attracts visitors; it also lifts the destination’s image for economic development. Moreover, when people come for a visit—whether for business or leisure—they are much more likely to consider living, working, going to school, investing or retiring in a place.

Through a series of studies in 22 U.S. destinations over the past two years, researchers at Longwoods International quantified this impact. The findings show that both tourism advertising and visits create a significant positive lift in a destination’s image for economic development.

The most dramatic improvement in image for a destination was among those consumers who both recalled the advertising message and visited the destination. The study found a 28 - 31% lift in the number of consumers who would consider the destination for other economic development objectives. Here are the numbers:

  • 31% lift in the number of consumers who would consider attending college or living in a destination.
  • 30% lift in those who would consider starting a business or purchasing a vacation home in a destination.
  • 29% lift in those who would consider starting a career in a destination.
  • 28% lift in the number of consumers who would consider retiring in a destination.

The bottom line is visitation plays an important role in every aspect of economic development.

Family walking by Ah-Nab-Awen Park, 2023
RoofTop Pickleball at the Amway Grand Plaza

The proximity of outdoor activities to big-city fun in Grand Rapids is a big draw for visitors.

Photo by Ideology for Experience GR

What’s your story?

While data is powerful, stories bring data to life.

We’re looking for people who decided to live, go to school, work, start a business, or retire here after being wowed by a visit. If that’s you or someone you know, please take the time to fill out this survey.

We’ll capture these stories, share them with our community and use them to elevate our destination as a great place to visit . . . and so much more. 

Share your story:

When did you visit and move? What made you love GR? Please include some details of your experience.

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