There's (not much) room at the inns

Marie Havenga • Mar 4, 2017 at 7:00 AM

The secret is out: Not only is the Grand Haven area a great place to live, it's becoming an increasingly popular place to visit — and that shows in the dollars being spent on local lodging.

Spending in lodging has been steadily marching upward in recent years, according to local hotel managers and statistics from the visitors bureau. Spending jumped 6 percent last year, 12 percent the year prior and 7 percent in 2013, according to Marci Cisneros, executive director of the Grand Haven Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

All that added up to visitors spending an estimated $75 million in the area last year on lodging, restaurants, shopping and other wants and needs.

Cisneros noted that the numbers include spending in our regional statistical area, which includes hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, cabins and vacation homes in Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Ferrysburg, West Olive, Coopersville and Allendale.

“When we look at overnight dollars generated over the last five years, you can see there is a steady growth pattern for our area,” Cisneros said. “This is due to a combination of more visitors, increase in room rates and increase in number of rooms available in our district.”

Cisneros estimates that about 70 percent of lodging spending takes place between May and October.

With some local municipalities enacting or considering restrictions on short-term rental home activity, Cisneros doesn’t necessarily think that will hurt the hotel industry, but it could impact overall tourist numbers.

“Generally, the visitor that is looking for a vacation rental property has a very specific experience in mind — if they can't find it here, they will move on to the next community,” she said.

April Schmidt, general manager of the Holiday Inn Grand Haven-Spring Lake, said her occupancy rates have increased 8-10 percent every year since 2012.

“When the economy crashed in 2008-09, that definitely hurt us,” she said. “Things have definitely turned around.”

The increase in occupancy translates to an increase in employees. She's added housekeeping employees by about 20 percent in the past eight years, from 125 to 175.

“The more rooms we sell, the more rooms we have to clean,” Schmidt said.

The 123-room hotel is booked full every summer weekend. These days, even winter occupancy is up — from about 20 percent in 2008 to a 50-60 percent occupancy rate this winter.

Schmidt thinks that is also a reflection on the improving economy. With local businesses doing better, they often book hotel rooms for visiting executives and prospective employees.

“We've been working with our local companies and giving them negotiated rates,” Schmidt said. “It makes my life easier because we can keep employees on staff during the slow season versus going to a skeleton crew. I can keep a nice core staff throughout the whole year.”

Kendra Gardner, general manager of the Best Western Beacon Inn in Grand Haven, said she thinks this area's recent national awards boost occupancy rates.

“Especially the most recent one with Coastal Living (”happiest seaside town”),” she said. “It's an international magazine that goes all over the world. I think our exposure has gone up. People say, 'I want to see what's so great there.'”

Local festivals also help lure visitors.

“I started in 2000 at Best Western before Salmon Fest was even a thing,” Gardner said. “We wouldn't fill up most September weekends. Now, we're filling up. People are also coming a lot for the Grub and Brew Fest. We also get a lot of sports teams and industry.”

The 103-room Best Western typically hits 100 percent occupancy on weekends, May through September, but it can dip as low as a third during the off-season, Gardner said.

“It really depends on what's going on in the area,” she said.

But the offseason can also bring in locals, according to Gardner.

“We get locals who come get a room for the night just to get their kids in the water (indoor pool),” she said. “A lot of local families are used to going to the beach and going in the water. You kind of miss it this time of year.”

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