WANTED: HERITAGE TOURISM; St. Marys Hosts Seminar on Drawing Cultural Travelers Historic Sites Are among the Main Reasons People Now Say They Visit Georgia, Official Says

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Byline: GORDON JACKSON

ST. MARYS -- Cumberland Island National Seashore is the biggest lure for tourists in St. Marys, but it's not the city's only attraction.

Orange Hall, an antebellum mansion built around 1840, as well as a museum display of the last battle site from the War of 1812, are two notable examples.

The key to attracting visitors to cultural and historic sites, according to state officials holding a tourism seminar in St. Marys, is proper preservation and restoration, as well as marketing those attractions to take advantage of growing interest by tourists.

Studies show people are showing so much interest in visiting Georgia's historic sites that cultural tourism is among the main reasons people now say they visit the state, said Dan Rowe, deputy director of tourism for the state Department of Economic Development.

The key, Rowe said, is to display and market historic attractions in a way that will bring visitors to their towns.

Rowe told the group of about 70 tourism officials from across the state that visitors play an important role in helping Georgia's economy, spending more than $15.4 billion each year in 2004 and creating more than 9,000 jobs. The two-day seminar ends today.

"Tourism is big business in Georgia," Rowe said. "The more tourism grows, the more the economy grows."

Ray Luce, director of the Historic Preservation Division for the Department of Natural Resources, said people want to know about their past. The best way to explain about a historic site, he said, is by telling a good story.

"You talk about who came and why they came," Luce said. "You need to be sure to include as many stories as possible."

Historic sites are among the most popular destinations by families and those with college degrees, said Cheryl Hargrove, president of the HTC Group, a company specializing in cultural heritage tourism planning, marketing and development.

"Historic tourists come year round," Hargrove told the audience. "You have to give people a reason to come back."

Visitors want to be entertained, and they like to shop for items they can't normally get at home, she said.

"Price is not the issue for cultural historic travelers," Hargrove said. "The experience is."

Authenticity is important to tourists, including the renovation and restoration of a site, any costumes worn by guides, easy to read signs, and good information. …