You can’t book a meeting into Grand Rapids if you don’t know when Grand Rapids will be open.

That was the challenge that confronted Experience Grand Rapids as the COVID-19 pandemic and its attendant restrictions dragged on. When would DeVos Place be able to host an event again? When would it be possible for large groups of people to get together indoors? When could hotels, restaurants and attractions welcome meeting attendees at full capacity?

The uncertainty around these issues hindered our efforts to promote Grand Rapids/Kent County to meeting planners and leisure travelers. Then the COVID-19 vaccines were introduced – and it became clear that they would be the gateway to a full reopening of the economy.

EXGR Leads the Way

From the beginning of the pandemic, EXGR helped local businesses navigate health, safety and closure/restriction issues, and lent support to those advocating for a careful reopening. In April of this year, EXGR Senior VP Janet Korn mobilized a coalition of 50+ Michigan convention bureaus, government entities and business groups across the state to send a letter to Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The group requested a schedule to lift restrictions on indoor meetings and events in the state while acknowledging the importance of the vaccines in that process.

“We petitioned the governor for a schedule that would allow convention bureaus, convention centers, event venues and other organizations to book conventions, meetings, tournaments, concerts and other events with a higher degree of certainty,” says Korn. “We proposed a schedule that would increase indoor capacity in stages, from 50% on June 1 to 75% on July 1.”

Whitmer soon announced a reopening timetable that hewed closely to our proposal – though her plan lifted all restrictions on July 1 (and that date was later moved up to June 22). This gave our industry concrete dates for confirmation and planning, plus the time needed to ramp services back up.

The Future is Bright

No other industry and labor force was hit harder by the pandemic than the hospitality, entertainment and travel sector. But EXGR and our industry partners are rebounding as quickly as possible. It won’t be long before we recapture the momentum that made Grand Rapids/Kent County one of America’s hottest convention destinations – and made meeting and convention business a cornerstone of the local economy.