GVSU study sheds light on local tourism

Alex Doty • Sep 3, 2017 at 1:00 PM

The results of a 2016 summer tourism study of the city by Grand Valley State University researchers have shed light on what drives visitors to the area.

“Our visitor study in 2016 had several objectives,” GVSU Hospitality and Tourism Management professor Patty Janes said. “Overall, we wanted to have an understanding of what those visitors looked like.”

Janes said researchers also wanted to learn more about the accommodations, expectations, purpose of visit and the likelihood that they would return.

“We had an opportunity to collaborate with five organizations,” Janes said.

GVSU partnered with the city, Chamber of Commerce, Visit Grand Haven, Grand Haven Main Street and the state park to study visitors. The study was conducted from Memorial Day through Salmon Festival weekend.

“In my 25 years in higher education, I’ve never been in a community that’s had participation like that,” Janes said of all of the partners coming together to collaborate on the study.

The survey portion of the study was derived from 460 respondents. 

“Ninety-seven percent of the people were satisfied or very satisfied with their visit to Grand Haven,” Janes said, noting that the same percentage of respondents said they would recommend visiting the community to other people. 

Additionally, the majority of respondents indicated there is "nothing" for Grand Haven to do to improve.

However, the study did indicate that the single greatest response for improvements was related to parking, and and having more spaces and better regulations.

“It didn’t matter where we sliced them,” Janes said of the responses. “They all felt that to be an issue.”

Other top improvements mentioned by respondents included more affordable accommodations, additional public restrooms, cleaner public restrooms and easier navigation. 

The study also provided some insight into just how many people visit Grand Haven during Memorial Day through Salmon Festival.

“We had 2.2 million visitors to Grand Haven during that period,” City Manager Pat McGinnis said. “That, to me, is a lot of eyeballs on our city.”

McGinnis noted that this number means a large economic impact for tourism-related businesses, and that business and impact can spin off and influence other businesses in the community.

Those with a stake in the research project say they were impressed with the findings.

“We are always looking for new ways to learn more about our community and our visitors. When the city approached us about a partnership on a tourism study with Grand Valley State University, we knew we needed to be involved,” Grand Haven Convention & Visitors Bureau director Marci Cisneros said. “Our organization has worked with the university in a variety of ways over the years, but to my knowledge this was the first ‘in depth’ visitor study.”

As the official destination marketing organization for the Grand Haven area, Cisneros said they have “existing knowledge” about the demographic, geographic and psychographic make-up area travelers.

“However, new trends develop and the industry is an ever-changing landscape. Therefore, we had several questions we wanted to ask in the study,” Cisneros said. “For example, we wanted to know more about what our visitors thought about us before, during and after their visit.

“What could we do to make their stay better? Why did they choose us over other lakeshore communities, etc.,” Cisneros said.

Cisneros said the information received from the study will be beneficial moving forward.

“We were pleased to learn how happy our visitors are with their vacation choice,” Cisneros said. “Sure, our community has room for improvement but because of the study we now know where we should be focusing our efforts.”

Grand Haven Main Street Executive Director Diane Sheridan called the study “an incredible research project.”

“We’re going to be inviting our Main Street businesses to a special workshop to go through the study with them,” she said.

Sheridan noted that she found it interesting that the average profile of the survey respondents aligned with a lot of the businesses in the Main Street district.

“Going forward, we’re probably going to use that information for special event planning as well as doing any tweaks to events we already do,” she said.

Sheridan also noted that the information could come in handy for individual businesses that wouldn’t be able to obtain it on their own, and said that the information will be used to try and determine how the unmet needs can be addressed.

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