GRAND RAPIDS — Craft beer tourism contributes more than $12.2 million to the Kent County economy.
That’s according to a new study from a trio of economics professors at Grand Valley State University’s Seidman College of Business that was commissioned by Experience Grand Rapids, the convention and visitors bureau for Kent County.
The study, titled “The Economic Impact of Beer Tourism in Kent County, Michigan,” estimated that 42,000 people traveled to the area specifically for beer tourism. Of that group, about 31 percent — or 13,000 people — came from outside the state to sample craft beers at the growing number of breweries in the greater Grand Rapids area. While the beer tourists were in the area, they directly spent more than $7 million on beer, lodging, food and other services. Included in that spending was 14,000 hotel nights, the study found.
On average, tourists who came to the Grand Rapids area for craft beer visited nearly four breweries each.
“Beer tourism is a growing part of the economic mix in the Grand Rapids area,” authors Dan Giedeman, Paul Isely and Gerry Simons wrote in the report.
The release of the economic impact study coincided with the launch of Experience Grand Rapids’ new beer tourism promotion. Dubbed the Beer City Passport, the promotion gives visitors a chance to receive a “Brewsader” T-shirt if they collect stamps from eight of the 23 participating breweries on the “Grand Rapids Ale Trail.”
“Marketing today is about engagement, not just screaming the loudest to attract people, and this is a way for us to have that deeper engagement,” said Janet Korn, senior vice president of Experience Grand Rapids.
Experience Grand Rapids modeled the passport promotion off similar projects in craft beer-centric cities across the country. The destination marketing agency plans to track who redeems the passport and where they’re from to get more information about who’s coming to the greater Grand Rapids area for craft beer.
“The hope is that when they get through the passport, they’ll invite their friends and relatives to participate with them,” Korn said. “We also now will capture the ability to tell those beer fans about other beer things that are happening. We have beer events and special beer releases that happen throughout the entire year, and now we can communicate with those ‘Brewsaders.’”
Participants in the Brewsader promotion must visit GoSite at the Grand Rapids Art Museum to redeem their T-shirt after securing stamps from eight breweries. The promotion runs through October 2016.
The idea behind the Brewsader project came out of a collaborative marketing group made up of owners and marketing professionals from local breweries, Korn said.
In relation to the beer tourism story, Korn said it came as a surprise that local craft breweries already attract so many visitors from outside Michigan. Additionally, she said it was promising that a sizeable portion of visitors — 19 percent came from Southeast Michigan, including the Detroit and Ann Arbor metropolitan statistical areas.
“We know that Michigan likes to travel around the state, but there seems to be a pattern of people from Southeast Michigan traveling north instead of west,” Korn said. “We know they’re coming here for ArtPrize, but this put evidence to that fact that we can maybe attract more of them (with beer).”