Pretty. Sweet.” That’s how Kevin Langston, deputy commissioner for tourism at the Georgia Department of Economic Development, describes the impact of visitors on the Georgia economy. Georgia ranks as the seventh most visited state in the country, which should be no surprise since we are part of a major corridor to Florida.
The top three revenue-producing regions of the state remain metro Atlanta, coastal Georgia and -- drumroll please -- the Historic Heartland, which includes Perry, Warner Robins, Centerville, Peach County and Macon/Bibb. Latest annual figures indicate the entire state collected $25 billion in total direct travel spending from visitors, $1.4 billion of which came from our region. When you consider that tourism keeps 13,500 employed in the Heartland, The Georgia Department of Economic Development considers travel and tourism a leading Georgia industry.
In late January, Gov. Nathan Deal invited tourism industry leaders to the state Capitol to celebrate Tourism, Hospitality and Art Day 2015 and to reflect on the latest statistics. Of the $25 billion reported in direct travel/hospitality sales -- which includes air transportation, interstate rail, bus and boat -- a whopping $1.8 billion was local and state taxes.
Those tax revenues represented a $767 tax break for each Georgia household, according to the Economic Impact of Tourism in Georgia: Tourism Satellite Account. In other words, the local and state travel taxes would cover the wages of all secondary school teachers (1.6 billion), or public safety officers ($985 million) and firefighters ($541 million) for the entire state of Georgia, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2013).
The consistent performance year after year of travel and tourism in Georgia has no doubt had a stabilizing effect on our state and even our local economy. When compared to the other top 10 industries in Georgia based on Gross Domestic Product results, which reflect an industry’s value, the GDP dollars run in the billions: tourism ($11.3 billion), agriculture ($4.7 billion), textile mills ($3.9 billion), paper products manufacturing ($3.5 billion), wood products manufacturing ($1 billion).
In Houston County alone during 2013, the tourism industry supported 1,920 jobs, generated $204.58 million in direct tourist spending and generated $5.65 million in local tax revenues.
Each Houston County household received $250.14 in tax relief per household because of the taxes generated by tourism activity. That is pretty sweet!
Lately, the media has been focusing attention on our area, as well, for its culinary contribution to tourism. Thrillist.com, a food, drink and travel website, recognized Macon’s H&H Restaurant in a story on The Most Iconic Restaurant in Every State. In fact, legendary chef “Mama Louise” Hudson from H&H is posted on the Gregg Allman Facebook page and featured on the cover of the 2015 Georgia Travel Guide, along with famed Athens chef Hugh Acheson, who is known from the cooking competition show Top Chef.
Local flavors and great tastes in Georgia are the focus this year -- so much so that the Historic Heartland launched its very own culinary product at Tourism, Hospitality and Arts Day 2015 at the Capitol called the “Brews & Q’s Trail.” More than 30 locally owned locations representing 14 counties are featured in the place-based brochure and map inviting visitors and residents to explore the authentic flavors of our BBQ restaurants, breweries and growler shops.
From Perry to Macon there are 10 locations featured on the map, which is available at the Visitor Information Centers in Warner Robins, Perry, Byron and Macon and also online at the www.ExploreGeorgia.org brochure room.
Marsha Priest Buzzell is the executive director of the Warner Robins Convention & Visitors’ Bureau and may be contacted at 478-922-5100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.