Who’s Coming This Year?

Northern Michigan continues to build on its reputation as a destination for convention and meeting business, particularly throughout the state. Brad Van Dommelen, who heads Traverse City Tourism (formerly the Convention and Visitors Bureau), said the region’s combination of excellent meeting facilities and its burgeoning fame as a travel destination with plenty to do year-round is hard to beat.

“Traverse City has cachet,” said Van Dommelen. “We’re a leader in meeting functional needs. It’s great for meetings and conventions, to be able to have general sessions and breakouts and technology requirements.”

Given facilities that can hold upwards of 500 people for dinner and more than double that for seating, as well as the largest number of guest rooms, Grand Traverse Resort sets the pace for large meeting groups. Ryan Buck, the director of sales, said the Resort’s combination of size and recreational opportunities gives it the ability to please groups of most any type. He also extolls the virtues of the region in attracting people throughout the year.

“Traverse City and the surrounding area are rife with culture, culinary options, and adventure and excitement,” he noted. “This is an exciting and memorable destination throughout all four seasons. The bulk of our business throughout the year is group business. Many groups that stay with us have been doing so for 10, 15 or 20-plus year in a row.”

Shanty Creek Resorts in Bellaire also has the capacity to host large groups, and the facilities at Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville can host up to 300. All three offer golf, spa and workout facilities, multiple dining options, shopping, and nearby access to watersports, recreational activities and the bustling wine and craft beer scenes.

“Planners who choose Shanty Creek want the ‘Up North’ experience for their attendees – the woods and the waters, the spectacular setting that we have,” said Chris Hale, director of sales at Shanty Creek Resorts. “It’s a differentiator from the major hotels in Detroit, Grand Rapids, and to some degree even from those in Traverse City.”

Arah Johnson, Hale and Buck’s counterpart at Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville, concurred that groups want to provide the best experience for attendees – that includes facilities and surroundings.

“For groups such as associations, selecting a desirable location can help drive attendance and thus increase revenues,” she said. “For corporate meetings, northern resorts provide an environment where all their meeting needs are met – lodging, meals, meeting space, team building and recreation. This ensures their time together will be productive.”

The TC Business News takes a look at the 10 largest groups scheduled for the area in 2015, when they will be here, and whether they have been here before. The groups meeting at Grand Traverse Resort have all done so for many years, with the exception of the Hall of Fame Dance Challenge, which is new this year.

Michigan Health Occupations Students of America

National and state organization for secondary and post-secondary students enrolled in health occupation education programs. Members strengthen their leadership and citizenship abilities through interaction with health care professionals and community leaders.

April 15-16, 1,400 attendees, Grand Traverse Resort

Special Olympics Michigan – Winter Games

Sports and training program with more than 20,000 registered athletes statewide. The Winter Games is the culminating winter sports event for more than 900 athletes with developmental disabilities.

February 3-6, 1,200 attendees, Grand Traverse Resort

Hall of Fame Dance Challenge

Competitive dance program with divisions for youngsters, teens and adults.

June 30-July 5, 800–1,000 attendees, Grand Traverse Resort

Michigan Public Health Institute

The WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) conference for the Michigan Department of Community Health

April 28-29, 800 attendees, Grand Traverse Resort

Michigan Association of Community Mental Health Boards

Annual meeting of association created in 1967 to support county mental health services programs in promoting, maintaining and improving a comprehensive range of community-based mental health services

October 26-27, 650 attendees, Grand Traverse Resort

Michigan Credit Union League

Annual convention and exposition for credit unions from throughout the state

June 4-6, 600 attendees, Grand Traverse Resort

Flint Islamic Center

A family weekend with worship, education and recreation sessions

Memorial Day weekend, 500+ guests, Shanty Creek Resorts (Yearly group since 2008)

Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals

Association for middle school and high school principals, which provides leadership, research and services, promotes standards of excellence and works with other professional associations

June 22-24, 500 attendees, Grand Traverse Resort

Center for Automotive Research

Annual management briefing seminars for high-level automotive executives from across the industry

August 3-6, 500 attendees, Grand Traverse Resort

Michigan Association for Educational Data Systems (M.A.E.D.S.)

Annual conference for association promoting the use of technology to support education

October 14-16, 415 guests Shanty Creek Resorts (Each fall since 1984)

In addition to the conventions, Tori Piersante, vice president of sales at Traverse City Tourism, highlighted several sporting events that take place in the area and use multiple hotels and motels. They include: two TBAYS soccer tournaments, each of which brings in between 5,000 and 7,000 people; the Cherry Bomb lacrosse tournament, with between 4,500 and 6,000 attendees; Bell’s Iceman Cometh Challenge mountain bike race, with more than 5,000 attendees; the North American VASA races, with between 800 and 900 racers; and Horse Shows by the Bay, with thousands in attendance.

Piersante said many of the same factors contribute to the growth of athletic events and group meeting business. The region’s year-round outdoor attractions, entertainment scene, and family-oriented atmosphere all contribute to making this as desirable a location for large-scale events as for family vacations.

“The athletes and their families love Traverse City,” said Piersante. “There is so much to do.”

Van Dommelen concurred. As proof, he points to last year’s meeting of the Michigan Townships Association. It was held in January, in the midst of one of the coldest and snowiest winters on record. “They had record attendance despite the worst weather,” he said. “It’s important for a meeting planner to put it all together.”


The 300 And Under Crowd

These smaller groups will also be spending time working and playing in northern Michigan this year:

Michigan Association for Pupil Transport

Educational conference for state membership of dedicated pupil transportation professionals

June 23-26, 260 attendees Shanty Creek Resorts (4th year at Shanty Creek)

Federal Bar – Michigan Chapter Bankruptcy Seminar

Western District of the Michigan Chapter of the Federal Bar Association’s annual bankruptcy seminar

July 30-August 1, 250 attendees, Crystal Mountain Resort

(Crystal has been the host venue four times. It’s been held in the region for at least the last 15 years.)

Michigan Sheriffs’ Association

A summer training conference for law enforcement and community safety professionals

June 6-9, 230 attendees, Crystal Mountain Resort

(This is the fifth time Crystal Mountain has hosted this event and the 12th in the last 16 years that the conference has been held in northern Michigan)

Michigan Community Action Agency Association

Educational seminar focusing on social ventures, organizational standards, energy efficiency and weatherization, and green industries

July 28-30, 225 attendees, Shanty Creek Resorts (Yearly since 2009)

Michigan Assessors Association

Provides educational opportunities for assessment administrators and appraisers

October 8-10, 215 attendees, Shanty Creek Resorts (5th year at Shanty)

Michigan Association of Osteopathic & Family Physicians

Educational conference with trade show for osteopathic physicians from around the state

January 22-25, 212 attendees, Shanty Creek Resorts

(Has held its Mid-Winter Family Medicine Update here in January since 2008)

Detroit Red Wings Training Camp

Training camp for NHL team

September, 200 attendees, Grand Traverse Resort


While the region’s meetings and convention business continues to grow – with a sparkling reputation bringing years of repeat business – there will always be opportunities to land more business. TC Tourism’s Brad Van Dommelen said planners on his staff have started to track “lost opportunities” – groups that they were not able to serve due to size or other factors.

In that vein, the TCBN asked a couple of planning teams for their “Wish Lists” when it comes to meeting and convention business.

Ryan Buck, director of sales, Grand Traverse Resort:

– More foreign incentive travel groups with long length of stays

– More group business touching weekdays

– An efficient and convenient form of mass transit to downtown Traverse City


Chris Hale, vice president of sales and marketing, Shanty Creek Resorts

– More days in September. We simply can’t accommodate all the groups who seemingly want their conferences and meetings in September.
– We wish we could predict the weather. Many aspects of our business are dependent on the right weather: golf groups, weddings, skiing.
– We wish (at times!) that our resort was smaller! With three villages across nearly 8 square miles, there are challenges that we have to overcome that others may not. But then again, we also have opportunities because of our size that others don’t have. It’s a two-edged sword at times.