The Sun News

BUZZELL: Tourism in Warner Robins and county still growing

Usually an attention-getter, it’s fun to see the look on faces when the words “tourism” and “Warner Robins” are used in the same sentence.

Yes, tourism does exist here and is, in fact, part of a $53 billion industry in Georgia, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

It’s reported that 5 million vehicles annually -- best described as a flock on the way to and from Florida – drive along Interstate 75 Warner Robins exits 146, 144 and 142. The Department of Economic Development also reports that over 70,000 vehicles use those exits daily. What an opportunity to capture all those children who would love to see an SR-71 up close and personal at the Museum of Aviation, and for their parents, who would love to give them that opportunity for free.

It’s all here: Family entertainment, restaurants, shopping, sports, spa, and arguably the best and most recognizable lodging brands are here because Houston County is right in the middle of the state at the crossroads of major interstates and highways. The truth is that Houston County is part of the third most visited region in Georgia. And Georgia is the seventh most visited state in the nation.

And that’s a big deal since spending generated from visitors to our region (Perry/Warner Robins/Centerville to Athens) has increased from a pre-recession $1.138 billion (yes, that’s a “b”) in 2007 to the current $1,379,870,000 billion reported by GDEcD. That’s an increase of 24.65 percent over the past five years. During more than half of this past year, it was reported that hotel revenue from visitors staying overnight increased in our region by double digits during March, May, July and August. That’s mainly because of spring break and summer vacation when folks were coming through Georgia headed to Florida.

In an effort to serve more of the leisure and business travelers this past year, Warner Robins saw the opening of a Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites on Watson Boulevard as well as Perry having a new Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites. The occupancy tax collected by all of the hotels and lodging establishments in the county return to the city and state to be used for advertising and promotion efforts of attractions and events; and TCT (Tourism, Convention, and Trade Shows) and TPD (Tourism Product Development). More visitation equals more revenue to support those efforts and all the wonderful events and locations that are unique to Houston County.

Throughout this past year, the two Convention & Visitors Bureaus in Houston County welcomed tens of thousands of visitors to their visitor information center locations in front of the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter in Perry and Robins Air Force Base/Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins. Visitors received maps, brochures, calendars of events, directions, welcome packets and a warm dose of red carpet Southern hospitality. The Warner Robins E.L. Greenway Welcome Center is, in fact, part of “Depot Row.” The Elberta Depot Heritage Center also is part of the welcome center property.

Warner Robins and Perry CVBs also partnered with the Department of Economic Development Tourism Division by hosting “A” list national travel writers and department staff during local familiarization tours. We invited the state photographer for visits to our farmers markets, attractions, festivals and historic buildings and other locations to be included in the Camera Ready program used to attract the film industry to Houston County. Currently, Georgia is the third most lucrative industry location behind California and New York for commercial filming, from movies to ad commercials.

Anticipating what’s ahead in 2015, things continue to look good for Houston County. The Smithsonian Institute is considering sending its traveling exhibit “Hometown Teams” here, while Georgia Special Olympics Masters Bowling and Georgia Golden Olympics will return. And a variety of projects being considered to benefit the community now and for years to come include a sports complex, visitor information center on I-75, an amphitheater and a firehouse museum. A popular saying applies: “It’s all good!”

Marsha Priest Buzzell is the executive director of the Warner Robins Convention & Visitors Bureau and may be contacted at 478-922-5100 or cvb@wrga.gov.

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