It’s fair to say that the team at Experience Grand Rapids is passionate about the hospitality and tourism industry. We know it’s a vital economic driver and positively contributes to the quality of life in our region. But, despite the fact that alignment with public sentiment is an important part of our work, we did not have a clear understanding of how Kent County residents feel about tourism in our community.

So, in February 2023, we engaged Longwoods International – a leading tourism research firm – to conduct resident tourism sentiment research examining public perceptions of tourism from all angles, including the positives and negatives of economic development, environmental impacts, quality of life, and more.

Doug Small, President & CEO of Experience Grand Rapids
Doug Small- President & CEO at Experience Grand Rapids

Doug Small, President & CEO of Experience Grand Rapids

Photo by Experience Grand Rapids

This research gave our team a unique opportunity to engage with locals on tourism. It equipped us with a comprehensive understanding of public opinion of tourism and its impact on our regional economy.

Key Findings of The Study

The study found that Kent County residents strongly support tourism development, growth, and positive attributes. A larger share of Kent County residents support tourism than their national or regional counterparts. It is important to note that three fourths of the respondents have no direct involvement in the industry.

Other significant findings include:

  • Nine in 10 residents believe tourism benefits their local area.
  • Eight in 10 support developing and hosting more significant events to attract visitors.
  • Festivals have the enthusiastic support of the community. Respondents agree festivals increase the quality of life in Kent County and 91% believe they benefit the local economy.
  • There is strong support for hosting sporting events in Kent County.
  • Residents agree tourism promotion at both the state and local level represents their home.
  • 90 percent believe tourism is good for the local economy.
  • DeVos Place is a significant force in the community and has strong levels of support. Residents attend events at DeVos Place and recognize the economic impact and benefit it provides.
  • Kent County residents are proud to call this home, curious about local tourism news, and eager to recommend tourist sites to visitors.

What our community is saying about Future Development Projects

When asked whether future community projects will help attract new residents and visitors and benefit the local economy, community members ranked river restoration and trail enhancements and the downtown amphitheater as top projects. These projects have been in the works for a while, and there may be a correlation between information shared by the media and other sources and project support.

Looking to the Future

The survey also illuminated opportunities for the future. For instance, residents seemed less aware of the opportunity for career advancement in the tourism industry, so we will make this a part of our workforce development strategies.

And finally, harkening back to the 2016 destination asset study that showed a need for a new convention hotel adjacent to DeVos Place, nearly half of the responses recognize the benefit this hotel would have on the local economy. Respondents agreed that a new hotel would help fully utilize the space at DeVos Place, expand potential for downtown conventions and offer additional space for current meetings.

Thanks to all who participated in the survey. I was delighted to hear that our community understands the importance of tourism for our region, shares the belief that it boosts the regional economy and enhances our quality of life, and resoundingly supports continued investments in assets that will drive growth in tourism and the visitor economy.