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Published in Economic Development

Kalamazoo tourism official discusses new role, preparing for post-COVID comeback

BY Sunday, January 17, 2021 12:19pm

After ping-ponging around the globe in various professional roles, Jane Ghosh finally ended up back in Kalamazoo, where her new job involves promoting the city she calls home. In December, Ghosh was named the new president and CEO of Discover Kalamazoo, which promotes tourism to Kalamazoo County. With an economics degree from Harvard University, Ghosh has marketing experience with titans like Johnson & Johnson and Kellogg Company. She will apply that experience to help raise the profile of Kalamazoo in a time when dining, entertainment and many other forms of hospitality have slowed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Does growing up in Kalamazoo allow you to approach this job more effectively than someone who hadn’t?

Jane Ghosh president and CEO of Discover Kalamazoo COURTESY PHOTO

I certainly think it will help me very much. When you look at convention and visitors bureaus across the country, you will see some people that go from city to city and take the skills that they have developed to another city, while others have a passion for their own hometowns. I am definitely in that latter camp. While I don’t have experience in the tourism industry, I do have a love and passion for my town and I have a lot of marketing experience, which is very relevant.

How difficult has it been to settle into a new role during a volatile time like the
COVID-19 pandemic?

I think any job you take is going to have its challenges. It’s just another challenge and I’m grateful to be in the position where I can help try to lead the team to what I think is going to be a very bright future. While I have not been through COVID, I’ve been through my share of leadership challenges in the past and I have those experiences to bring to bear on this.

With significant limitations on dining, sports and other events, how has Discover Kalamazoo been able to support these businesses in the community?

The team has done a phenomenal job trying to be a beacon of positivity in 2020. And really recognizing that even though we can’t be attracting the sporting events and other events
that we might have done in 2020, it’s still really important to have a thriving business community in Kalamazoo to preserve for when they do come back. They’ve done a great job. Right now we have a program called Carryout Bingo. We created bingo cards. If a family gets carryout from five restaurants in a row, they can come into one of our local shops and get a “Kalamazoo: Made For You” T-shirt. It’s a creative way to continue to find what opportunities we can use to continue to drive prosperity so when events come back, we’re still a thriving community.

Where does Kalamazoo stand in terms of slowly bringing back larger events
or meetings?

We look at the data we have on lodging. Like any other community in Michigan, obviously all of our occupancy rates went down significantly at the beginning of COVID. April was the low point. We are starting to outperform the Michigan average in the last couple of months. We’re doing a little better and I’m optimistic. We’re starting to hear from groups that are trying to find safe ways to bring back events in 2021. We’re also actively talking to groups about planning for 2022. For the most part, what I can sense is that groups that are planning meetings and events are feeling very confident about 2022.

Kalamazoo and Portage grabbed national headlines recently because of Pfizer Inc.’s role in producing a COVID-19 vaccine. Is that something that the city can capitalize on in terms of tourism?

I absolutely think we should be able to leverage that in the sense that it puts Kalamazoo that much more on the map. It’s just one more point of interest and one more thing to talk about. We’ve talked as a team on how we can leverage that because people are searching for things about Kalamazoo and Portage in Google searches.

A tourism bureau’s financial health generally mirrors the health of local tourism. What can you do to create an organization that sits on firm financial foundation?

The great news is that I inherited an organization that has been very prudent financially. We are actually in a reasonably strong position. They had a (financial) reserve so that business could carry on despite the pandemic, which is great foresight from the people that came before me. As we look at our investments into the future, as soon as the hotel occupancy rates come back up, the revenue comes right with it, and that’s just further investments we can make into our future.

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