As autumn approaches, the North Georgia mountains are gearing up for a busy fall season. Our beautiful mountain communities play host to a variety of activities in the fall, from the Ellijay Apple Festival, Oktoberfest in Helen, Gold Rush Days in Dahlonega and of course my personal favorite, the Dawsonville Moonshine Festival. These experiences are made all the more unique with Georgia’s touch of Southern hospitality. Our ability to make anyone and everyone feel welcome is a quality that can give our state a competitive edge in tourism.
The 51st Senate District and surrounding areas play a major role in driving Georgia’s tourism industry. While fall is a peak season here, our communities offer plenty of attractions and activities year-round. Many locally-owned, small businesses are supported by tourism, an industry that generates more than $6 billion in resident wages and nearly 250,000 jobs statewide.
The state’s tourism industry also helps lower resident taxes. According to the Georgia Department of Economic Development, each Georgia household pays $518 less in local and state taxes due to direct tourism expenditures.
As the state’s second largest and most important industry, we must grow tourism if we hope to grow Georgia’s economy.
Recently, more than 400 industry professionals gathered in Athens to discuss solutions to that goal. Each year, the Governor’s Tourism Conference brings together hotel managers, convention and visitor bureaus and other professionals from across the state to build a consensus on how to attract more tourism dollars to Georgia. In fact, the conference alone brings vital revenue to its host cities, this year generating over half a million dollars for the Athens area.
As we do every year, we called together a joint meeting of the Senate and House Economic Development committees where we heard from Department of Economic Development Commissioner Heidi Green and a couple of our partners in the private sector.
Sean McGinnis, chairman of the Tourism Development Alliance of Georgia, and Joseph Bankoff, president of the Woodruff Arts Center, shared their ideas on how best to grow Georgia tourism. McGinnis emphasized the need to focus on authentic Georgia experiences, keeping in mind that it’s the small towns that make up the state’s tourism industry. Bankoff noted the important role that the arts play in Georgia tourism, and that cultural tourism is a crucial sector of the economy.
Green gave the committee an update on the department, which despite significant budget cuts is achieving enormous success. She noted that Georgia is leading the nation in attracting film and digital entertainment to the state, which is responsible for a $1.3 billion economic impact to Georgia. What emerged from our meeting was a consensus that Georgia must capitalize on its unique qualities that set us apart from the competition. It’s crucial that tourism entities across the state move together in the same direction in order to strengthen our brand, and I’m confident that’s exactly what our tourism leaders will do.
Further emphasizing the need to return to Georgia’s Southern hospitality roots, Horst Schulze, founder of the Ritz-Carlton, delivered a keynote speech during the conference on creating legendary customer service in Georgia.
Schulze is credited with reinventing customer service by emphasizing that businesses should not just welcome back their customers, they should welcome them home. By creating a culture of “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen,” Shulze raised the bar for customer service and shared his ideas on service-oriented strategies for Georgia’s hospitality businesses.
The legislature has made it a priority to partner with the private sector to identify areas of growth and build cooperation within the industry to boost the state’s economy. With unparalleled service and a touch of southern hospitality, Georgia will welcome new visitors and keep them coming back.
Sen. Chip Pearson serves as chairman of the Economic Development Committee. He may be reached at (404) 656-9221 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.