Tourism and economic growth go hand in hand – so much so that expanding tourism options is one of the strategies outlined in Forward Together, the county-wide vision to make Genesee County a top-five community in Michigan based on jobs, talent, livability, and equity by 2040.

“We want to continue to grow our region and for visitors to consider Genesee County as a place to live,” said Amari Steward, executive director of Explore Flint & Genesee, a division of the Flint & Genesee Group and the region’s convention and visitors bureau. “We like to say that today’s visitor could be tomorrow’s talent.”

And as the tourism industry evolves, Explore Flint & Genesee is employing a variety of marketing strategies and data-driven tools to attract visitors and enhance their experience while they’re in Flint & Genesee.

Harnessing the power of technology

In an increasingly digital world, there’s an art to the science of destination marketing.

Leveraging new digital tools and resources helps Explore Flint & Genesee make informed decisions about where to market and to whom. With clearer insights on traveler behavior patterns, they can target their marketing efforts – and budgets – accordingly.

In 2023, Explore Flint & Genesee partnered with the state to purchase a tourism insight platform named Arrivalist. It allows them to unlock trip insights, traveler movement, and lodging trends in one dashboard.

“It’s very privacy-forward. But it provides us with very high-level data to see where visitors from outside Genesee County come from, if they visited any specific points of interest like our attractions, our hotels and our parks, and how long they stayed,” said Amanda Blackburn, director of Marketing at the Flint & Genesee Group.

It also provides receptive audiences for new marketing. For example, if Blackburn sees an increase in travelers from Grand Rapids, she can track where they’ve visited here, giving her a leg up on placing future West Michigan advertising for similar demographics.

Digital tools like Arrivalist provide insight into visitor data that wasn’t possible before.

“It really helps us support our community, our attractions, and our hotels by making sure that we’re reaching the right audiences who are going to potentially visit and stay overnight,” Blackburn said.

An uptick in visitors resulting from targeted advertising, social media content, email marketing, or other strategies means it’s working.

And it is.

Graphic showing the top 10 states and cities where overnight visitors come from plus a graphic showing where visitors go after visiting two attractions

In 2023, overnight visits from the Detroit area increased 6% from the previous year, according to Arrivalist data. Blackburn attributes this success in part to a marketing partnership with a family-oriented Detroit magazine called Metro Parent.

Explore Flint & Genesee last year also shifted overall campaign messaging for leisure travel from general brand awareness wording of “explore” to the more direct call to action of “book your stay.” Arrivalist showed that overnight stays increased 15% from 2022.

“It’s nice to see an uptick in overnights after we changed messaging,” Blackburn said.

Explore Flint & Genesee also joins forces with local event partners like the HAP CareSource Crim Festival of Races and The Ally Challenge presented by McLaren, using digital marketing to encourage event visitors to stick around and explore other amenities and attractions that Genesee County offers.

Geofencing allows Explore Flint & Genesee to focus marketing efforts within specific geographic locations and deliver personalized content to those audiences. They currently monitor 80 points of interest across the county. One of those is the Dort Financial Center.

“We monitor the data coming out of some events they host and maybe we find that visitors there also like to go to the Flint Farmers’ Market, or shopping, or to certain hotels,” Steward said. “We marry some of our knowledge of the region and target our messaging to them.

“Helping visitors navigate and maximize their travel definitely allows us to be proactive instead of reactive,” she said.

A little ‘coopertition’

Explore Flint & Genesee mostly concentrates on attracting visitors within a two-hour drive while also working to catch the eye of meeting planners and sports organizers throughout the country.

In 2023, Genesee County hotels sold 450,490 room nights – an increase from previous years.

Travel to Flint & Genesee is trending in the right direction, said Kim Corcoran, executive director of Meetings Michigan.

“Flint is definitely putting themselves on the map,” Corcoran said. “They’re really going after their niche, which is sporting events and mid-size meetings.”

Meetings Michigan is part of the Pure Michigan initiative used by the State of Michigan to promote its tourism and travel destinations.

Corcoran and Meetings Michigan bring together regional convention and visitors bureaus, resorts, hotels and service providers under one umbrella to attract major tradeshows, conferences, and events nationwide. It’s a strategy sometimes called “coopertition,” or cooperative competition.

“The focus is working together to bring those meetings or events to Michigan; that’s the top priority,” Corcoran said. “Once we get a commitment, then our respective regions work together to help them find their perfect destination.”

Steward frequently finds herself promoting Michigan alongside Grand Rapids, Detroit, Traverse City, and Great Lakes Bay tourism leaders.

There’s often enough surplus to go around.

For instance, when Detroit was selected to host the 2024 NFL draft, it was a victory for travel destinations across the state. More than 775,000 fans flooded downtown Detroit for the three-day event in April.

“That was a big proposal written by the Detroit Sports Commission and Visit Detroit,” Steward said. “But they contacted me because we all work together to promote the state as a destination. So, although I’m competing against Detroit to bring visitors to Genesee County, they’re also my partner when I’m promoting the state.”

The NFL Draft’s bounty overflowed, allowing restaurants, gas stations, convenience stores, shopping, and golf courses, across the southern Lower Peninsula to also feel the love, Corcoran said.

Packed lodging in Metro Detroit meant higher-than-average bookings at hotels in surrounding areas like Ann Arbor and Genesee County. A good dose of targeted advertising and cross-promotion didn’t hurt either.

“When one community in Michigan is doing well, it shines a light on all of us,” Steward said.

Elevating the traveler experience

There are other more personal ways to help visitors navigate their way to a great experience.

The Flint & Genesee Tourism Ambassador Program helps teach and inspire front-line employees, volunteers, businesses, and residents to turn every visitor encounter into a positive experience.

What separates the Flint & Genesee Tourism Ambassador Program from other training programs is that it’s a certification, not just training. Participants who complete the program receive a credential and accompanying initials that can be used behind their name to denote their commitment to their profession as a Certified Tourism Ambassador (CTA).

Today there are over 300 CTAs in Genesee County.

“When I went through the training, I was amazed by all the cool things we have going in our county,” said Ed Koledo, executive director of the Fenton Community & Cultural Center and Southern Lakes Parks and Recreation. “It’s all about engaging people, learning about their interests, and then sharing some of those hidden gems with them.”

Eight of Koledo’s employees are now CTAs. Because more than half his staff is certified, the organization has received a Blue Star designation, noted in the region’s visitor guide and on the Explore Flint & Genesee website with a simple blue star. It’s one of 19 Blue Star organizations in the county.

“Our Certified Tourism Ambassadors are truly some of our greatest community assets,” Steward said. “They consider it their mission to make sure when people visit Flint & Genesee that they have a great time and want to come back.”

Blue Star Certified

To help our region put its best foot forward for new and returning visitors alike, the Flint & Genesee Tourism Ambassador program teaches frontline employees and volunteers how to turn every visitor encounter into a positive experience.

In 2023, the program implemented a Blue Star designation, awarded to any organization in Genesee County with 50% or more certified staff. The designation – noted in the region’s visitor guide and on the Explore Flint & Genesee website with a simple blue star. These organizations include:

Best Western Plus Flint Airport Inn & Suites
Comfort Inn & Suites Grand Blanc
Crossroads Village & Huckleberry Railroad
FIM Capitol Theatre
FIM Flint Institute of Music
FIM Whiting Auditorium
Flint Children’s Museum
Flint Cultural Center Corporation
The Flint & Genesee Group
Flint Institute of Arts
Flint River Watershed Coalition
For-Mar Nature Preserve & Arboretum
Genesee County Parks & Recreation Commission
Keep Genesee County Beautiful
Longway Planetarium
Mott-Warsh Gallery
Sloan Museum of Discovery
Southern Lakes Parks & Recreation
The What’s Up Downtown Project

Interested in becoming a CTA or helping your organization earn a Blue Star designation? Visit to get started.