But despite a difficult year, the CVB team secured contracts for 4,608 room nights in Genesee County, extending into 2021, with the sports market accounting for most of the booked business. Although hotel occupancy and revenue were down last year because of the pandemic, the percentage declines were considerably less than the impact in other parts of the country.
In response to the disruptions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Flint & Genesee Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) pivoted in 2020 to be a different kind of resource provider to clients while using the downtime to retool services in preparation for a post-pandemic rebound.
The CVB was integral in helping local hotels keep abreast of and understand the different safety protocols being implemented to contain the spread of coronavirus. The Visitor Information Centers were adapted to be safe, as well as useful, for visitors by incorporating technology whenever possible instead of relying on physical copies of materials.
Recognizing the critical need for safety precautions, the CVB team took it upon themselves to acquire and deliver masks to area hotels. A large supply was especially important for the housekeeping staffs. Additionally, a “Hospitality Heroes” initiative was created to honor employees that went above and beyond their job duties to assist people during the outbreak.
The team worked to ensure that sports-related and other entertainment venues were aware of the COVID relief funding programs, connecting these groups to a variety of resources made available via the Chamber’s online Coronavirus Resource Toolkit.
The CVB launched a new website – exploreflintandgenesee.org – that delivers an improved visitor-focused web experience. Built on a platform specifically designed for tourism organizations, exploreflintandgenesee.org offers better tools for planning a visit, a more comprehensive events calendar and a streamlined RFP process for meeting planners and sports organizers. The new site also allows local attractions, hotels and meeting spaces to easily update and maintain their listings on the website, putting them in a position of strength as the economy and tourism gains momentum. By year’s end, web traffic was up nearly 30 percent over 2019.
The CVB created new overnight packages for Flint & Genesee visitors for promotion online and through Pure Michigan to help boost the region as a tourist destination. The “Golf Flint & Genesee” package included discounted fees to many local courses and discounted overnight stays to a handful of hotels. The package was also promoted on Travel Michigan’s website, Michigan.org, on the page for Deals and Packages.
The Certified Tourism Ambassador (CTA) program, which bolsters customer service by providing in-depth knowledge about the history and attractions in the region, was moved entirely online in 2020. The CVB team facilitates the online coursework, working with the CTA Network. Not only did this virtual format allow the program to continue but also, it gave the three-dozen participants a way to connect to others in the county on what’s good about Flint & Genesee.
In addition to its traditional work, the CVB worked with the Metro Police Authority (serving Mundy Township and Swartz Creek) on its newly formed initiative with area hotel leadership. The initiative provides mutual support for police for investigations of fraud, domestic violence, human trafficking, drug crimes, theft, weapons control and unruly guests. The CVB team was instrumental in expanding meeting invitations to hotels and police across Genesee County to help ensure safety for guests and the general public.
Communications and public relations efforts continued to play a vital role for CVB’s work. Explore Flint & Genesee social media continued to resonate with existing and new audiences in 2020. Social media campaigns and promotions were run to help facilitate engagement and keep locals and visitors excited about Flint & Genesee. These included the “Can’t Wait to See You Again” photo campaign to spread awareness that Flint & Genesee would be ready when travelers were ready to come back. Additionally, two bracket-style challenges ran on Explore Flint & Genesee Facebook and Instagram, including the “Explore Flint & Genesee Festival & Events Showdown” and the “Explore Flint & Genesee Attractions Showdown.” Both were successful ways to give community events and attractions a spotlight during a difficult time.
The work of the CVB certainly changed, but it did not stop in 2020.