When Paul Stansbie is asked about how metro Grand Rapids stacks up
against other cities in terms of tourism and the hospitality industry,
he offers an unexpected yet fitting professional opinion: swagger.
“There seems to be a different buzz about Grand Rapids…it has a swagger about it," says Stansbie, chair of the Hospitality and Tourism Management (HTM) program at Grand Valley State University.
"We’re a little league player playing with more high-profile
destinations like Orlando. Size doesn’t seem to matter—we have the
confidence and the people to make it happen. We’re very lucky here.”
The rising self-confidence of Grand Rapids and America's reputation
worldwide as being on the cutting edge of the hospitality industry drew
Stansbie here from his native England. Judging by the growth of the
GVSU program he heads up, the respect has been mutual.
In the six years that Stansbie has been at GVSU, the program has
grown from 181 HTM majors to nearly 500, taught by soon to be 11
full-time instructors. In addition to instructors, Stansbie's wife
Amanda -- a seasoned travel and tourism expert herself -- places
students in internships where they can complement book-smarts with
Stansbie, 41, attributes the growth of the HTM program to the
expansion of tourism services at a "regional, national and
international level, and an increase in promotion and awareness of the
HTM degree internally.” Grand Valley’s main competitor is Michigan
State University, and Stansbie believes GVSU’s reputation as a school
of choice increases yearly.
Part of the program's cachet is connecting students with local hotels like the JW Marriott and the Amway Grand Plaza, the many and varied new restaurants sprouting up in the area, and the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.
pleasant British accent would make just about anyone feel at home.
Educated in both the U.S. and Britain, his love for the service, travel
and tourism industry began at a young age. As a child in his hometown
of Birmingham, Stansbie would visit with a local chef, marveling at the
man’s ability to create something out of nothing.
He ventured to the U.S. to get his bachelor's degree in hospitality
from New Hampshire College, returned to England to receive his master's
degree in business administration and is currently pursuing his
doctorate in business administration from the University of Plymouth
School of Business.
Stansbie was drawn to GVSU because “the HTM program is built on the
applied learning business model—we take the theory, we take the
practice and meld them together.” While he enjoyed traveling to Hong
Kong and the Maldives to train hospitality professionals through
graduate programs in England, Stansbie says he jumped at the chance to
“educate and prepare people to be successful in their careers” when
GVSU called him. He became Chair of the Hospitality and Tourism
Management program in 2007.
“Students love the fact that [the program] is grounded in theory,"
Stansbie says. "They can see the right way of doing things, but they
also see the realistic way of doing things. We’re very honest about
the challenges of the working environment, the challenges of the labor
force, the challenges of the business economy and models."
The GVSU program is designed to move students directly into the
professional world. Offering “tracks” in food and beverage, lodging,
travel and tourism and event planning, Stansbie says he want students
“to hone their choices, but have transferable skills.” The program
offers studies abroad in Italy and Australia, as well as opportunities
to work on the Rothbury Music Festival.
In keeping the program fresh, an adventure tourism course was added
last year. Defined as any travel associated with outdoor physical
activity, adventure tourism is an increasingly important component of
the general tourism industry. The Travel Industry Association of America estimates that $595 billion was spent on adventure travel and outdoor recreation nationally in 2007.
Grand Rapids IS Grand
Watching the growth and
development of the area impresses Stansbie, and additions
like the Grand Rapids Art Museum, DeVos Place, new restaurants and
upcoming events like ArtPrize have him beaming.
Despite the economy, Stansbie’s optimism about GR’s tourism future
remains strong. He asserts the resiliency of the travel and tourism
industry and speaks highly of the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau’s
promotion of Grand Rapids. He also feels the JW Marriott has raised
the city’s profile tremendously.
“To think that somewhere like Grand Rapids has one over a city like
Chicago, a city like Cleveland, I think that speaks volumes for the
ambition of the city," Stansbie says. "It says: Look at us, this is
Grand Rapids, look at what we have to offer. More and more people
outside the city take a look at this place and say: Wow.”
Return on Tourism
state of Michigan has been dropping much needed time, energy and money
into the travel and tourism sector and recently launched a campaign
called “Pure Michigan” that appears to be paying off.
Stansbie quickly rattles off travel and tourism economic statistics,
and they do speak loudly. For every dollar thrown toward the Michigan
tourism industry, approximately three dollars is returned to the state
treasury—not something to scoff at during these pressing economic times.
“The economy in Michigan is changing significantly and a lot of work is being done by the Michigan Economic Development Corp.
to get greater funding for tourism," Stansbie says. "They’ve announced
historic levels of tourism funding out the Governor’s office to promote
the 'Pure Michigan' campaign and that has great benefits for residents
of Michigan…it clearly impacts the jobs available and diversification
of the economy.”
The luster of Grand Rapids draws much needed attention to Michigan.
A featured city on the “Pure Michigan” website, the city is heralded
for its nightlife, restaurants, natural beauty, shopping and
“high-energy, walkable downtown.” The website boasts, “We need to find
places that are genuine and true…we need to find ourselves in Grand
According to the World Travel & Tourism Council,
worldwide travel and tourism are estimated to grow 4 percent a year for
the next 10 years. Stansbie believes Michigan and Grand Rapids are in
the perfect position to bring those tourists here—and he has just the
right graduates to help make it happen.
Bona Van Dis is a freelance writer living in Grand Rapids. When
she isn't chasing her 4-year-old son, she's writing and editing for
the Aquinas Magazine.
Paul Stansbie, chair of the Hospitality and Tourism Management (HTM) program at Grand Valley State University (3)
Photographs by Brian Kelly -All Rights Reserved