Experience Grand Rapids toasted the town – and the record-breaking 2022 return of visitors and meetings to the region – at our annual Toast the Town luncheon. Michael Dominguez, the featured speaker at our event on May 11, believes travel has a lofty purpose. “Your mind, mindset and view of the world can never be enlightened,” he says, “without seeing different cultures, people and inspiring conversations.”

As the president and CEO of Associated Luxury Hotels International, a member-based organization that serves as a global sales organization for independent hotels and independent hotel brands, he’s done his share of travel.  

A big believer in looking at things differently, Dominguez challenged Experience Grand Rapids’ 2023 annual Toast the Town event guests to confront conventional narratives and mindsets by bringing critical thinking – and data – to the day’s headlines.

Specifically, he challenged guests to beat back the lingering negative narrative of the pandemic, inflation and pending recession. He cited growth in several U.S. industry sectors, including the service industry. Specifically, he pointed to a booming hotel industry that’s benefiting, both from the return of meetings and conventions and from the fact that Baby Boomers, the wealthiest age group in our country, is spending their savings on travel.

Both facts track with what Experience Grand Rapids saw with our 2022 Kent County visitorship numbers.

A Record Year

In April, we released record-setting tourism economy data for Kent County in 2022. Hotel room sales and revenue in Kent County were the highest in the region’s history last year, exceeding pre-pandemic levels by a healthy margin and beating tourism industry predictions by two years.

After two very rough years, group business has made a strong comeback in Kent County. That, combined with robust leisure travel in 2022, drove huge increases in hotel room sales and revenues over 2021, and pushed us past 2019’s pre-pandemic record numbers. That’s two full years ahead of industry forecasts that predicted we wouldn’t see new sales highs until 2024.

Show Me the Numbers

At 2,157,455, the number of hotel rooms sold in 2022 jumped by more than 350,000 — or about 19.4% — over 2021 figures and exceeded 2019 sales by nearly 91,800 rooms, an increase of about 4.4%.

At $248,702,424 in 2022, Kent County hotel room revenue grew by nearly $77.5 million over 2021, a 45% increase. Hotel revenue was nearly 10% higher than in 2019 with a more than $22.5 million bump.

Hotel room numbers matter because those overnight visitors make a big impact on local businesses and our regional economy. They’re also important for Experience Grand Rapids because hotel room sales drive the revenue that allows us to market this destination to leisure, group and business travelers.

Group Business Makes a Big Impact

A 2022 comeback in group business was a big contributor to the hotel sales growth. In partnership with the West Michigan Sports Commission, we brought a total of 481 individual meetings, sporting events and group tours that drew 443,024 attendees to the region, restoring 92% of the number of groups convening in Grand Rapids when compared to 2019.

No Signs of Slowing

Looking forward, we accept Michael Dominguez’s challenge to think critically about what the data is telling us. With a record year in the rearview mirror and a strong start to 2023, we see no signs that our visitor economy is slowing down.