Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

State Looking to Tourists for Revenue; Drawing Travelers Is a Competition

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

State Looking to Tourists for Revenue; Drawing Travelers Is a Competition

Article excerpt

Byline: VICKY ECKENRODE

CLAYTON -- At a roadside gift shop overlooking the North Georgia mountains, Dale Johnson stopped Thursday for the panoramic view and to snap some photos.

It was far from the flatlands of home.

"Mountains? We don't even have hills," said Johnson, who lives in Plant City, near Tampa, and was traveling to visit his brother. "There's not as much to do there."

State officials hope that a new approach will bring more out-of-state visitors like Johnson into Georgia, especially ones who stay overnight in motels.

After all, tourists usually mean more money for restaurant and store owners, an increase in tax collections for the state and the creation of jobs in the low-pollution hospitality industry.

That's why it's become a competitive business for states trying to attract travelers.

While Georgia ranked eighth in the nation last year in terms of direct tourism spending -- a distinction helped by the state's large physical size from coast to mountains -- state officials said they could be doing more to better market to visitors.

Last year, the state's tourism expenditures grew 6 percent, according to the Travel Industry Association of America. But nationally, the spending increased 6.8 percent.

Even meeting the national average could have had a significant impact in money collections and potential new jobs, said Dan Rowe, the Georgia Department of Economic Development's new deputy commissioner for tourism.

"With the size of our tourism industry, we could have left $116 million on the table [last year]," he said. "We don't want to sit back and rest on our laurels."

Rowe spoke Thursday to the state economic development's board of directors, which met in the northwest corner of the state. Less than a month into his new job, Rowe has the challenge of making Georgia more competitive with other popular tourist destinations in the Southeast.

Earlier this year, the General Assembly created a public-private board to help raise funding for tourism marketing and come up with new ways to package the state's attractions.

The New Georgia Tourism Foundation will include state tourism industry representatives and work closely with the state agency. …

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