GRAND RAPIDS EXPERIENCES BANNER YEAR IN 2011

Grand Rapids/Kent County experienced a banner year in 2011 with continued growth in hotel performance, occupancy, and room revenue and record attendance at area attractions.

Nashville, Tenn.-based Smith Travel Research, a leading provider of hotel performance data, reports that Kent County hotels earned $114.4 million in room revenue in 2011. Kent County hotels increased occupancy by nearly 7 percent and revenue per available hotel room by nearly 11 percent. Occupancy outpaced national and state growth in all of these categories.

"In an industry that has experienced its share of challenges throughout the past three years Kent County has maintained its momentum in the tourism market both nationally and statewide," said Doug Small, president of Experience Grand Rapids. "For the second consecutive year, Kent County reported double digit growth in hotel revenue and outpaced national and state growth averages in occupancy."

Small also noted that the cities of Grand Rapids and Detroit are leading the State of Michigan's hotel revenue growth.

Small added: "This is also the third year in a row that our staff has booked more than 125,000 future convention, sports and group tour room nights throughout Kent County. The cooperative spirit from our hotel partners, other industry partners and a refreshed brand image played a major role in these positive, encouraging outcomes."

Blockbuster Events and Exhibits Attracted Record Crowds

New and returning high-profile events such as LaughFest and ArtPrize contributed to a surge in attendance at area attractions and economic activity in 2011. The inaugural LaughFest comedy festival attracted more than 55,000 people to 228 ticketed and free events, including big name touring artists Betty White and Bill Cosby. Nearly 36,000 tickets were sold during the 10-day festival, which launched with a rubber chicken toss that set a Guinness World Record.

The third annual ArtPrize competition experienced another year of great success. A new economic impact study conducted by Anderson Economic Group revealed the event added $15.4 million to the local economy, attracted more than 320,000 visitors and created more than 200 new jobs during its 19 days.

An impressive collection of world-class exhibits resulted in record crowds at downtown museums. Diana: A celebration at the Grand Rapids Art Museum welcomed nearly 100,000 visitors. The Bodies Revealed exhibition at the Grand Rapids Public Museum drew more than 171,000 people, making it the second-best attended exhibition in the museum's history.

Overall attendance at these and other local cultural institutions multiplied in 2011 as well. UICA's new facility experienced the most growth from 2010 to 2011, with an increase of nearly 60 percent. GRAM saw a 27 percent rise in visitors throughout the year, and attendance at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum grew by more than 21 percent during the same time period.

"2011 was another phenomenal year for tourism in West Michigan," said Ed Wilson, Experience Grand Rapids board chair. "In the last year, Grand Rapids has moved forward with a stronger entrepreneurial spirit than we've ever known before. We have certainly raised the bar with the addition of LaughFest to our city's entertainment scene, yet another amazing year of ArtPrize and record turnouts at area museums and attractions."

Award Winning Work Showcases Grand Rapids as Premiere Destination

The creative efforts of the Experience Grand Rapids marketing team led to award-winning work in 2011. The redesign of the Experience Grand Rapids website earned an outstanding achievement award from the Web Marketing Association, a prestigious Davey Award from the International Academy of the Visual Arts, and high honors from the Michigan Society of Association Executive, including best in show.

"We are thrilled with the recognition we have received last year for our new website. Acknowledgment from such prestigious organizations speaks volumes about our creative marketing efforts to brand Grand Rapids as an experience for our visitors," said Small.