Students conduct research for Convention and Visitor Bureaus throughout Michigan


Courtesy to GVNext

Audrey Whitaker

COVID-19 presented Hotel and Tourism Management professor Patty Janes with a new opportunity for students working online in an industry that has been dramatically impacted by the pandemic. 

Working with 18 different Convention and Visitor Bureaus (CVB) across the state, students in her research course worked with CVBs to collect and present data.

When Michigan first locked down due to the pandemic, Janes said she was researching the South Haven CVB. With the help of the GVSU remote research grant, Janes was able to hire a student assistant and conduct the research for free over the summer. 

“I’ve never seen research or data to be more important to our industry as it is now,” Janes said. “It’ll make them more successful and rebound more quickly.” 

Seeing the impact of COVID-19 on the industry, Janes decided to integrate research similar to her work with South Haven’s CVB into her course for the fall semester.  

“It was the first time I had tried anything as significant from a community-based learning standpoint,” Janes said. “ I decided to take a stab at trying to do more significant research projects for the industry for free by enlisting my research students as they learn to do research.”

Caitlin Hegedus, marketing and operations manager at the Muskegon CVB, said that GVSU’s students’ research provided helpful insight, especially during the pandemic.

“The information that we got from the experience is so important because it gives us a new perspective on how COVID-19 has influenced travelers, specifically to our area, and what they’re looking for,” said Hegedus.

Due to budget constraints, many CVBs are working with limited staff and resources. Without the work of GVSU students, this research would not have been done, Hegedus said. 

“Students developed the questionnaire, then, we used our existing email list of people who have thought about traveling to Muskegon and people who traveled here to create an email blast,” Hegedus said. “As responses came in, they populated all of that data.”

The surveys were sent out to former and interested visitors to the area, based on emails receiving newsletters and other information about events and attractions in the area, Hegedus said. Researchers were interested in what visitors were looking for during their trip, including activities and COVID-19 safety precautions.

Hegedus said she was impressed with the professionalism students displayed while working with the CVB and in their final report.

“The product that came from the students that reporting looks so professional and it was so well done that our team is really confident sharing that with our advisory committee and boards,” Hegedus said. “We’re really thankful that we got such a professional product, and the experience was so great.”

GVSU student Sarah Beck said that the experience was rewarding because it dealt with real-world issues and expectations.

“This was a real-world project, it wasn’t a made-up event that we were doing research for,” Beck said. “You really felt like you were doing something important because you were taking this information and applying it to see how we can safely bring back tourism.”

In addition to professional experience, GVSU student Sarah Choriatis said she formed a great relationship with her group members and Janes, despite the limitations of Zoom.

“I ended up becoming really good friends with my group after spending so much time talking and working together, and by the end of the semester we realized we never actually met in person,” said Choriatis. 

Janes said that meeting online with groups was essential to the research project, and was a great way for students to connect in a way they wouldn’t have in a traditional classroom. 

“Because the class was online, it created a unique community,” Janes said. “I met with them weekly, and the teams seem to work better because they were all accountable on zoom.”

Due to the success of the project during the fall semester, a new group of GVSU students will be working with 12 more CVBs and attractions this winter, as well as at least eight more next fall.

“I am so incredibly grateful to our students, who were willing to make a difference, not only learn the material but make a difference to an industry that really needs everyone’s help,” Janes said. “And to the industry, for equally being as brave right to trust that students would be able to do this work for them.”