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Checking in with Britny Avery

Fast Facts About Britny Avery

Britny Avery is the specialty sales manager for Experience Grand Rapids in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Experience Grand Rapids is the official destination marketing organization for Kent County and Grand Rapids, Michigan, and promotes the area for vacations, conventions and meetings. It is the only community resource devoted to marketing the destination by raising visitor awareness of the region’s brand characteristics: craft beer, music, family fun, outdoor recreation, art and culture, and food.

Birthplace: South Haven, Michigan

Education: Grand Valley State University, bachelor of science in hospitality and tourism management

Employment History: Experience Grand Rapids, specialty sales manager (2021 – present); Build-A-Bear Workshop, chief workshop manager and district talent coordinator (2014 – 2021); South Haven/Van Buren County Convention and Visitors Bureau, intern (2016)

Family: Avery is close with her parents and siblings. She has a younger sister and brother. Her brother is married and recently had a baby boy. 

Hobbies: Avery loves reading, going to the beach, game nights with friends and family, and playing basketball.

Britny Avery’s career in tourism began in an unlikely place: her college job at a Build-A-Bear in a suburban mall.

“Build-A-Bear is all about creating experiences,” Avery said. “So whether it was a happy experience or you were helping someone make a bear for something that they were absolutely heartbroken about, it was all about creating that experience for them.”

That emphasis on delivering guest experiences would prove invaluable when she took her current role as the specialty sales manager at Experience Grand Rapids.

Early Opportunities

Tourism has been part of Avery’s life since her childhood. She grew up in South Haven, Michigan, a quaint tourist destination on the shores of Lake Michigan known for its beaches and outdoor recreation.

When it came time for college, Avery didn’t stray too far from home — she attended Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, about an hour’s drive away. During college, she not only worked at Build-A-Bear but also discovered that she wanted to pursue a career in tourism. She majored in in hospitality and tourism management.

The university’s hospitality program required students to choose a concentration within the broader travel industry — tourism, lodging, food and beverage, or event planning. They had to take classes in each area of emphasis, then choose a focus. Avery chose tourism.

The program required students to have three internships. For one of those, she was able to return to her roots by interning at the South Haven/Van Buren County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“That internship gave me a taste of what it’s like to work in a visitors bureau, even though the South Haven/Van Buren County CVB is significantly smaller than where I’m working now,” she said. “It was a lot of fun. South Haven is a great little city, and most of the businesses there thrive on the summer season because it’s a beach town. My job was marketing, so I helped develop a calendar of events that we gave to our hotel partners. The other piece of my job was to be the visitor concierge as people came in — it was always fun to tell people who had never been there about the options they had while visiting.”

Another of Avery’s internships was working with the younger crowd aboard a Carnival cruise ship. Among her duties was creating daily activities for kids on board and keeping them entertained.

“We planned activities for the kids on three- and four-day cruises — we would generate games and engage them with interesting things and change and adapt if something wasn’t working,” said Avery. “It was a cool experience, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s interested in getting into cruise lines.”

A Windy City Detour

Avery had intended to start her career in the tourism industry right after graduating college in 2017 but found it difficult to break into the industry in her area. But an opportunity emerged at Build-A-Bear, where she had continued to work throughout college. After she graduated, the company offered her the opportunity to run a store in Chicago, and Avery felt up to the challenge.

“I was offered the opportunity to move to Chicago and take over the store on Navy Pier,” she said. “I lived in Chicago for three years and ran the store, but I was also the talent coordinator for our district.”

Avery was enjoying living and working in Chicago when the pandemic turned everything upside down.

“I would have stayed in Chicago — I really enjoyed it,” she said. “But it was so emotionally taxing being there during the pandemic. You couldn’t leave your apartment; you weren’t allowed to go out to the park. I could only leave my 900-square-foot apartment for emergencies or to go grocery shopping. So when our district manager gave me the opportunity to move home, I jumped on that chance.”

No Place Like Home

The move back to Michigan allowed Avery to reconnect with family and friends. It also gave her an opening to refocus on pursuing a career in tourism.

“I started looking at anything in the hospitality industry that I hadn’t applied for,” she said. “Coming back to Michigan was always my plan — maybe just not as soon, but it was definitely the right move. About a year later, a friend sent me a link to the job at Experience Grand Rapids, and here we are today. I feel very lucky to be here because for me, this is where Grand Valley University is, and it feels like everything has come full circle.”

In her role as a specialty sales manager, Avery works with tour planners and operators, primarily for group tours. But she also works in the wedding, family reunion and small military reunion markets.

“I really do love my job,” said Avery. “It’s always fun when you’re meeting with planners and you get to see them get excited about what you’re excited about, then help them put their ideas together about all the attractions and the experiences they can have. My absolute favorite part of my job is getting to meet people from all over — not just the United States but the world.”

Another thing she loves about her job is getting to go to travel trade shows — she attends about 12 each year that are geared specifically toward group travel. There, she meets with tour planners and group leaders to sell Grand Rapids as a destination and tell them what they can experience there. Her monthly trips have the added benefit of helping Avery get closer to one of her personal travel goals — visiting all 50 states.

“I’m slowly crossing those off my bucket list on these trips,” she said. “But it doesn’t count unless I stay overnight. I have to leave the airport, see the city and experience it. I love the sightseeing portion of the trade shows — the destination gets to show off their area. I’m just really enjoying this chapter of my life.”

Destination Faves

1. South Haven, Michigan:  Grand Rapids is my favorite, but I love going home. Not only is it a great beach destination, but I also get to walk the streets where I grew up and experience all the shopping, festivals and charm of South Haven.”

2. Germany: “I visited in 2017 and had a wonderful time. I loved the food, beer, architecture and German culture. I hope to go back!”

3. Universal Studios: “I love Harry Potter and diving into the worlds Universal creates. It makes you feel like you’re a part of your favorite book turned movie or movie in general. Not to mention, the rides are always a blast.”