Jane Ghosh may have grown up here, but she is still finding plenty to discover about her hometown.
After 26 years leading marketing departments at Johnson & Johnson (Tokyo, Japan and New Jersey) and Kellogg Co. (Battle Creek), in December Ghosh joined Discover Kalamazoo, as executive director and CEO of this destination marketing organization for Kalamazoo County.
Ghosh was raised in Portage and earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard University in 1990. After living in the United Kingdom and New Jersey, she and her family moved to the Battle Creek/Kalamazoo area in 2016. Ghosh knows the pull of family and hopes to leverage that in attracting tourists here.
“I think Kalamazoo residents can be our very best ambassadors,” she says. “Most people who come to Kalamazoo come to see family and friends. If they are trying to choose whether to meet here or there, we want to help them give their family and friends a reason to meet here.”
What would surprise people about your personality?
I’m very competitive. That would be one thing that might surprise people. When I was a kid, I got kicked off a go-kart track for running my uncle off the road. The family doesn’t like to play games with me anymore.
What was your mindset in the initial months at Discover Kalamazoo?
It was clear to me, both understanding what was happening in the world with Covid as well as what I learned through the interview process, that the (Discover Kalamazoo) team had a very tough year. We are funded through the accommodations tax revenue, which is based on visitors coming to stay in Kalamazoo. Not nearly as many visitors came to stay in Kalamazoo in 2020 as had in prior years, and many companies in the hospitality industry had layoffs and furloughs.
I was so appreciative of the resilience of the team for having made it through that. Even before I started the interviewing process, Discover Kalamazoo was a beacon of positivity to me in a very difficult year. Do you follow Discover Kalamazoo on Facebook? All this terrible stuff is happening around us and really difficult things happening to the team, but you’d never know it. It was, “What can you do in Kalamazoo? What are fun things to do outside and socially distanced?”
My first priority was to recognize the tough year that they had, but to also help us think about how we are going forward, what recovery looks like, and to focus on the future with an amazingly talented team.
Could you lay out your post-pandemic path for Kalamazoo County?
I really do think Kalamazoo is well positioned to recover quickly out of the pandemic. A lot of the things that are unique about Kalamazoo relative to the rest of the country are things that will be a benefit for us in recovery. For example, Kalamazoo gets way more visits from leisure visitors than business travelers, even more than the country as a whole. Those are the visits that will recover more quickly. Business travel will be more of a laggard.
Kalamazoo visitors also are way more likely to come via car than via airplane. Road trips are expected to recover much more quickly than airplane travel. A lot of visits to Kalamazoo are planned on short notice. The average time of planning a visit to Kalamazoo is 19 days. As soon as I found out I was getting my vaccine, I was doing the math and saying, “When can I get out and visit?”
Lastly, most people who come to Kalamazoo come to visit friends and family. Those are the people we haven’t been able to see.
We’ve just developed our Discover Kalamazoo long-term strategy, and our objective is to recover faster than the country as a whole. For domestic travel, the forecast is the country will get back to 2019 levels in 2024. Our objective is to get back to 2019 levels of visitor spending in 2023 at the latest.
Name a few old favorites in the area or new discoveries you’ve made.
The Nature Center. My one son went to Nature’s Way Preschool, which is the world’s coolest preschool. Period. To be able to have animals in your classroom? Amazing.
Also, the parks and trails. It’s a wonderful resource. For a community our size, the county parks and city parks are quite phenomenal. The Air Zoo. The Gilmore Car Museum. My kids were in Scouting and they used to do events at the Air Zoo. My younger son is an aerospace engineering student at the University of Michigan. I asked him, “Would it be fair to say it’s because of your exposure in high school?” He said, “Absolutely.”
— Interview by John Liberty, edited for length and clarity