Grand Rapids is Michigan’s second-largest city and a place full of history, art, impressive breweries and restaurants; it also has a walkable downtown area. This city of 200,000 residents in western Michigan will receive several hundred delegates to the 2019 Going On Faith Conference to be held September 4-6.
The annual meeting will be staged in the DeVos Place Convention Center downtown on the shore of the beautiful Grand River. The official conference hotel is the Amway Grand Plaza, conveniently connected to the convention center by a skywalk.
City leaders are confident that faith-based travel planners attending the conference will see that Grand Rapids is a town full of surprises and a place that planners ought to consider for future group tours.
“We would like to welcome everyone to Grand Rapids, where we will showcase our community and all of its various elements,” said Dave Nitkiewicz, specialty markets sales manager for Experience Grand Rapids, the local convention and visitors bureau. “We are a great destination for anyone coming into Michigan or from anywhere in the Midwest. We are located between Detroit and Chicago. We are proud of our area and love to show it off.”
Why Going On Faith?
The main purpose of the three-day meeting in Grand Rapids is to get representatives of churches and religious organizations in front of destination providers from all over the United States and several foreign countries. The two scheduled marketplace sessions will feature hundreds of six-minute meetings during which the parties will get to know one another a bit to see if they might be a match for potential tour bookings.
Going On Faith conferences have proven to be successful for veteran trip planners, who come away with a fresh slate of travel ideas for their groups. Conference regular Bill Highsmith of Tusculum Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, doesn’t even release his group’s travel schedule for the next year until he has attended this conference. “I’ve come here for years and always go away with ideas for places I hadn’t already planned on,” Highsmith said. “We usually follow through on those ideas.”
The conference will begin with an afternoon registration period at which delegates get to meet the staff that will be taking care of them for the next several days. Attendees will also have time to visit the information booths that are operated by tour companies, cities and states. Next, an ice cream social will satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth but also allow delegates to network through fellowship and fun in a more relaxed setting.
A delegate orientation in the theater will get everyone ready for what is to come during the conference. That evening, Experience Grand Rapids will present an outstanding dinner and entertainment package that is sure to be a highlight.
“The dinner will be held at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park,” said Nitkiewicz, who has a predinner treat for everyone. “When they first arrive at the site, the delegates will climb aboard trams for a tour of the gardens and sculpture park. There are about 158 acres there, with 180 sculptures spread around the grounds.”
The tour will focus on the sculptures and one in particular. Delegates will see the 24-foot-tall sculpture called “The American Horse,” which was created by famed animal sculptor Nina Akamu and was inspired in part by a work by Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci.
The group will also have time to view the remarkable Richard and Helen DeVos Japanese Garden, one of the most revered and appreciated Japanese gardens in the world, according to the CVB. After the tour, everyone will reconvene for a sit-down welcome dinner along with entertainment, which will conclude the first day’s conference activities.
Day 2 of the conference will include a sponsored breakfast and luncheon. The morning session will feature a keynote address by hospitality industry expert Bob Pacenovsky, who will urge planners and travel industry professionals to create what he calls “wow experiences” and lasting impressions for clients and guests. Pacenovsky calls his system for providing excellent customer service the “Black Tie Experience.”
The first of the two marketplace sessions will take place in the morning. Hundreds of religious trip planners and travel professionals will complete their scheduled appointments in hopes of finding common ground on which to do business.
One of the highlights of any Going On Faith Conference is the sightseeing tours of the host city, and Grand Rapids is going all out with five options for delegates to consider.
Grand Rapids likes to call itself Beer City USA thanks to the 43 breweries that have sprung up in Kent County. “The first option will be a visit to Founders Brewery, the largest brewery in Michigan,” said Nitkiewicz. That will be followed by a stop at The Knickerbocker, a large restaurant with a rustic, seasonal menu that showcases regional agricultural products. It is part of the New Holland Brewery Company. The restaurant is great for group visits and events. Delegates on this tour will get to see beer production and even enjoy a few sips of the sudsy product.
The second tour option will be a visit to the global headquarters of the Christian ministry known as Our Daily Bread. The ministry produces several devotional publications as well as radio and TV programs and an online university program. The tour will present the history of the ministry and explain the inner workings of the publishing empire that produces print and media content in 50 languages and whose products are shipped to 150 countries around the world.
Sightseeing option No. 3 will be a tour of the Grand Rapids Public Museum and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, which are next door to each other and just across the river from the conference hotel. Delegates who choose this tour will walk across a short pedestrian bridge to reach the museums. The public museum will present the history of Grand Rapids from the early Native American tribes to the present day. Grand Rapids was once known as a major home-furniture-producing city. Although that has waned recently, the city is still home to three of the world’s leading office-furniture-manufacturing companies. The Ford museum is dedicated to the nation’s 38th president. Ford was raised in Grand Rapids and later represented the area in Congress for a quarter of a century before ascending to the presidency in 1974 following the resignation of Richard Nixon. The museum grounds are also the final resting place for the president and first lady Betty Ford.
There are two other tour options available for conference attendees. One is an art and architecture tour that includes the Sweet House, a historic mansion built in the 1860s and is used today for events of all kinds. After that will be a visit to the Grand Rapids Art Museum for a tour and a workshop.
The fifth and last tour option that day will be the Ferris Coffee and Nut Company at Downtown Market Grand Rapids, a food emporium with restaurants and other fun places. Ferris roasts specialty coffee and nuts. “They will give a tour and present a coffee class in their factory,” said Nitkiewicz. “They are locally owned. They also make delicious chocolates.”
That evening’s dinner offerings will be fun. It will be a pick-your-own-restaurant dine-around in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids. There will be a Downtown Dining Deals map with 138 restaurants. If attendees show their map and their conference badges at any of the restaurants, they will receive a 10%-20% discount. It’s easy for attendees to walk to any of the eating establishments from the convention hotel. If folks want to explore downtown a bit, they can hop on the free Dash shuttle that travels around the downtown area. There are two Dash routes, one north-south, the other east-west. A free map is available.
The last morning of the conference will be a busy one, as usual. Breakfast will feature more tour and travel presentations that will percolate new ideas for planners. Then, the second marketplace session will kick off, the last opportunity at the conference for travel industry professionals to impress trip planners.
The closing luncheon is always full of surprises, so attendees will not want to miss it before they head home. The meal will be sponsored by Visit Wichita, the host city for the next Going On Faith Conference, which will be held August 19-21, 2020.