Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

The South Enjoys Boom in Tourism

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

The South Enjoys Boom in Tourism

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON _ By the tens of millions, tourists from around the world are heeding that ancient call of the South: Y'all come.

From the honky-tonk towns of the Gulf Coast's "Redneck Riviera" to the Smoky Mountain theme hamlet of Dollywood in Pigeon Fork, Tenn., they're looking forward to a boom year for visitors.

"As far as tourism is concerned, the recession just hasn't affected the South much," said Bill Hardman, executive vice president of the Southeast Tourism Society. The group, with headquarters in Atlanta, is an non-profit association of tourism agencies and attractions in nine southeastern states.

Hardman said tourists spent more than $73 billion in the South last year _ up from $65 billion just three years ago _ and even more visitor dollars are expected to flow into Dixie this year.

Tourism has grown steadily in the South in recent years. Now it is the No. 1 or No. 2 industry in every southeastern state. It ranks second in Georgia, behind agriculture, and of course is the leading industry of Florida.

Tourism officials listed an assortment of economic, geographic, cultural and even political reasons for so many vacationers heading South: Region-wide cooperation in promoting locales and attractions in various states. A location within a couple of days' drive of nearly half the nation's population _ a key factor with tourism trends toward shorter, cheaper vacations. A down-home enthusiasm that has led nearly every Southern city and hamlet to hold at least one annual, colorful celebration of itself and its products _ from Mardi Gras in New Orleans to village rattlesnake roundups and Vidalia onion festivals. A wealth of tourist attractions _ not just Florida's Disney World and Nashville's Opryland, but smaller places like the German village of Helen, Ga., and the golf courses of Myrtle Beach, S.C. An interest among African-Americans in their Southern roots and the sites of the civil rights movement. …

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