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If anyone thinks tourism isn’t important to Warner Robins, expert Bill Geist points out that there are nearly 2,000 hotel rooms in the city.
Assume, he said, that only half of those rooms are occupied any given night, and all of those occupants are alone.
“That means there are 1,000 people in Warner Robins every single night that don’t belong here,” he said.
“Do you think your favorite restaurant survives if there aren’t 1,000 people in town? With the margins most restaurants are running, the answer is no. Some would fail, as would some retail, as would some gas stations.”
He was speaking to a group of tourism officials, or destination marketers, from around the state gathered at the Museum of Aviation on Wednesday for a lunch held by the Warner Robins Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The term “destination marketer” is a reflection of what Geist described as an effort that goes beyond tourism. It aims to get people to relocate to a community and live there.
For tourism, he said, one of the best things a community can do is focus on ways to keep people there beyond a visit to one attraction, such as the Museum of Aviation.
With nightlife that includes live music and restaurants that serves breakfast, people are more likely to stay overnight rather than visit just one attraction, said Geist.
According to figures from the U.S. Travel Association released in February, 2017 tourism accounted for $248 million in direct spending in Houston County. The tourism industry was also estimated to support more than 2,197 jobs and $52 million in payroll for the county.
Geist said many governments are shifting money away from convention and visitor bureaus to economic development, which he said is a mistake.
He believes tourism raises the profile of a community and makes it ideal for economic development.
“Tourism is economic development at it’s most basic,” he said. “We plow the road, we clear the path for the economic development folks to get their phone calls answered and to get their site inspections.”
Geist is author of the book “Destination Leadership,” which focuses on promoting tourism as a vital part of a region’s economy.
He has been consulting with the Warner Robins Convention and Visitors Bureau to help it transition into a nonprofit organization. This will help them obtain grants and will allow it to lobby for tourism, said Marsha Buzzell, director of the bureau.
“We will be able to do more things as a nonprofit,” she said.