Experience Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids/Kent County tourism industry closed the books on another record year in 2018.  This was the ninth consecutive year that hotel room revenue – our barometer of success – surpassed the previous year’s level.  We also logged a 7,000 room-night increase in new business bookings in 2018.  But that’s history. It’s time to take a look at what’s in store in the year ahead.

For 2019, Experience Grand Rapids has set some aggressive goals and created strategies that we are confident will produce another outstanding year for our hotel partners and the businesses that benefit from visitor traffic. 

To set the stage for a successful new year, let me start by using an analogy that reflects my love for football:  If you’ve won the Super Bowl the last several years and you want to continue that run, don’t make wholesale changes to your line-up or playbook.  Well, we aren’t trading any of our team members and with the exception of some new tactical approaches to business, our playbook remains consistent with our winning strategy in 2018.

As an organization, we developed two overriding objectives by which we will judge our success in the year ahead.  The first is to confirm more group business for future years in 2019 than we contracted in 2018.  This past year we contracted a record 154,892 room nights to fill dates over the next several years.  To keep the momentum rolling and to assist in filling the 1,300 new hotel rooms coming into the market, our 2019 target is to confirm 156,000 future group business rooms for Kent County.

The second objective for 2019 is to assist our hotels in growing overall hotel room revenue to $219 million. To do this, we need to drive leisure travel in addition to business bookings. While business group bookings are an important segment of our business plan, leisure travelers are just as critical if we are to drive overall hotel room revenue in Kent County. 

In 2018, Kent County hotels realized nearly $216 million of hotel room revenue.  You can look back just ten years and find that room revenue had not even reached the $100 million mark. Growth in the tourism business has risen at an astounding rate and many associated businesses throughout metro Grand Rapids and West Michigan have benefited from this growth.  But we can grow even more, and we’ve set our sights high in 2019.

Beyond that, we need to help grow the average daily room rate. Quite honestly, filling a hotel is important, but to do so while growing the average daily rate is ideal. To do that, we need to continue to drive healthy growth in both business and leisure travel.

To achieve our objectives, our organization will remain true to our brand pillars because those pillars are what distinguish our destination.  They include craft beer/beverages, outdoor adventure, quality earth to table culinary experiences, live music, a vibrant art and culture scene and family fun. 

We have the passionate team and the proven playbook to deliver that brand message to the world. Together with our wonderful collaborative stakeholders, we will continue to drive growth in bookings and hotel revenue and boost our regional economy. Ultimately, the revenue produced by our hotel community is what pays our bills and funds our brand marketing and promotion of the destination. It's clearly a synergistic relationship.

We are confident that 2019 will be our 10th consecutive year of record-setting performance. I look forward to engaging you again next year at this time to unveil the results.


Doug Small

President & CEO

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