Detroit Regional Chamber > Detroit Policy Conference > Visit Detroit’s Claude Molinari on Lack of Downtown Accommodations

Visit Detroit’s Claude Molinari on Lack of Downtown Accommodations

January 11, 2023

As a location historically regarded with contempt by the unfamiliar, Detroit has spent the last few years developing a name for itself as a desirable destination. With national events such as the NFL Draft coming in 2024, the city is poised to continue growing in both investments and reputation.

During the 2023 Detroit Policy Conference, the President and Chief Executive Office of Visit Detroit, Claude Molinari, and Rhonda Walker, Morning Anchor at WDIV-TV 4, discussed the many ways that Visit Detroit is meeting the new demand that popularity brings and how businesses can help.

Detroit Must Meet the Demand for Accommodations

With an influx of tourists comes the need for an appropriate volume of accommodations. In December 2022, Gov. Whitmer signed a bill that will enable Visit Detroit to secure funding to build a hotel adjacent to the Huntington Place convention center. This is significant considering the results of Visit Detroit’s 5-year study on lost business that showed a total loss of 600,000 room nights, 50,000 of which were due to a lack of a hotel attached to a convention center.

Molinari shared that although event organizers are deterred by a lack of hotel rooms, “nothing sells like hope,” and even a development’s groundbreaking is enough to solidify a booking when they must plan several years in advance.

Opportunities for Positive Persuasive Marketing to Increase Tourism Rates

In regard to the impact of the tourism that large-scale events and a desirable location bring, Molinari shared an example from summer 2022 in which an automotive battery show in Novi brought hotel occupancy up from 50% to 97% for two weeks.

“These are people that fly here, eat at our restaurants, stay at our hotels, shop, and then leave,” said Molinari. “They are people from outside of southeast Michigan giving their money and spending it here, and that’s a huge impact on our economy.”

Another significant event from this past summer, Connect Partnership, brought 1,200 meeting planners from all over the world to Detroit. With 80% of attendees having never visited before, the promoters anticipated the need for persuasive marketing because many guests were nervous about coming, given Detroit’s outdated ill reputation. However, the response after the event was overwhelmingly positive.

Corporate Funding is Necessary to Finance Special Events

Hosting an event can be an expensive venture for a city. As an example, the 2024 NFL draft is costing Visit Detroit $2 million, leaving $8 million left to raise from corporate partners. He acknowledged the public’s concern about relying too heavily on “corporate welfare” to make Michigan a more competitive location for these large-scale events, but said it is essential to compete against other regions.

“When we compete against states like Texas, Indiana, and California, they have an enlarged special event fund in place if an event meets a certain criterion [and] it qualifies. That can be the difference between hosting an event and not,” Molinari said. “It’s the cost of doing business. If we want to host these events and get the notoriety and economic impact they bring, that’s what we have to do.”

Detroit is Off to a Good Start Post-COVID

One of Detroit’s most signature events, the North American International Auto Show, returned in 2022 after a COVID-induced hiatus. Although many elements were different than in years past due to a short planning period and a disrupted automotive industry, Molinari emphasized its status as an employment opportunity for Michiganders and called on businesses to rally around it because although “it may not have been as great an auto show as in the past, it was still the greatest auto show in the world in 2022.”

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