Craft beer tourism boasts $12M economic impact in Grand Rapids, study says – MLive.com

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – A lot of people visit Grand Rapids just for its craft beer – to the tune of a $12.23 million economic impact.

A recent study commissioned by marketing group Experience Grand Rapids concluded that more than 42,000 beer tourists visit the city annually, spending $7.05 million directly at craft breweries. Of those visitors, more than 13,000 are from outside Michigan.

The result prompted Experience GR’s new “Grand Rapids craft beer experience” promotion, the Beer City Passport, which allows beer lovers to collect stamps for each brewery they visit. Eight stamps, and they can stop by the Experience GR GoSite at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, and score a T-shirt bearing the “Brewsader” logo.

The passport will be available at 23 participating breweries in Kent County, from core-city spots such as Founders and Grand Rapids Brewing Co. to Greenville’s 57 Brew Pub and Bistro and the soon-to-open Cedar Springs Brewing Company. It may also be picked up at the GoSite, where T-shirts will be picked up.

Experience GR says craft beer has been a key component in the city’s tourism growth in recent years.

“It’s probably even a conservative number,” said Doug Small, president of Experience GR. “These aren’t people who came to town for their sister’s wedding and said, ‘Oh, by the way, let’s go to a brewery.’ These people came here specifically for the beer.”

The report also calculated 14,000 hotel nights at an average of $148 per night. Each beer tourist stopped at an average of 3.7 breweries, and more than 12,000 visited at least five. It also extrapolates an addition of 171 jobs in Kent County.

Thirty-one percent of beer tourists’ average daily spending was on craft beer, the study states, with 30 percent on lodging, 23 percent on food and the rest divvied up among entertainment, transportation and retail.

Eleven percent of the tourists came from the greater Detroit area, eight percent from Ann Arbor, 17 percent from West Michigan and 33 percent from elsewhere in the state.

RELATED: Your Grand Rapids brewery guide

The Brewsader idea is similar to passports utilized in Kalamazoo and Traverse City, which give tourists concise information about local breweries, and allow locals to collect stamps for prizes or bragging rights. Experience GR’s passport is designed in conjunction with its Beer City Ale Trail, which outlines 41 breweries, distilleries and cideries in the greater Grand Rapids area.

Small said the genesis of the study came from the idea that Grand Rapids was at least a regional beer destination, but no hard statistics to back it. Experience GR subsequently hired Grand Valley State University to conduct the study.

The study also points to craft beer being part of Grand Rapids’ identity. It’s a factor in the city’s recent hotel-occupancy records – the average summer weekend boasts 96 percent occupancy, Small said, although “it’s certainly not going to be like Napa and their wine, Sonoma and their wine.

“(The results) are just the tip of the iceberg,” he added. “There’s got to be more people coming here for beer. The study tells us we’re on the right track, and we’re going to continue to invest in (the beer experience).”

John Serba is film critic and entertainment reporter for MLive and The Grand Rapids Press. Email him at jserba@mlive.com or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.