Super Bowl LII is officially in the history books and hundreds of Georgians are already at work preparing for next year’s game at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Among them are hoteliers, transportation providers, event management firms and other members of the state’s $60.8 billion tourism industry.
Tourism is the 5th largest employer in our state, supporting over 450,000 jobs every year. And it continues to grow – not only in metropolitan areas like Atlanta, but in communities throughout our state where hospitality, attractions and unique experiences draw visitors from around the globe. The Georgia Travel Association was created in 2016 to support the individuals and companies that comprise this booming economic sector and to ensure that all Georgians understand the contributions they make both to our economy and our quality of life.
According to the Georgia Department of Economic Development, every one million in sales of travel goods and services directly generates nine jobs – the equivalent of over 10% of the non-farm payroll in our state. Even more significant is most of these jobs cannot be outsourced. It takes real, live Georgians to staff hotels, manage tourist attractions, operate restaurants, and keep our beaches and lakes clean and safe.
There is no reason that our tourism industry cannot continue to grow, create even more jobs and make an even bigger impact on our economy. While our organization appreciates the support and investments made by leaders like Governor Nathan Deal, we believe that more can be done to support tourism in communities large and small, rural and urban.
First and foremost is an increase in funding for tourism marketing. Georgia currently lags far behind our Southeastern neighbors and other states that have chosen to invest heavily in advertising and promotion. Increased expenditures would have an especially important impact on smaller communities that simply do not have the resources available to promote agritourism, historical sites, or their outdoor economies. While Georgia’s tourism industry is booming, imagine how much more it could grow if even more potential visitors were aware of all we have to offer.
Second is to ensure that all potential visitors know that not only is there something for everyone in our state, but that everyone is welcome. It is critical that our leaders resist passing any legislation or creating any policies that are discriminatory or could be interpreted or perceived to be discriminatory. Not only would these measures have a detrimental impact on leisure travel, but they could prevent our state from reaping the economic benefits that come from large conventions and major events such as the Super Bowl or the Final Four, which is scheduled to be played in Atlanta in 2020.
Of course, the most important thing we can all do to support Georgia’s tourism industry and the jobs and opportunities it creates is to be tourists ourselves, making it a point to visit the attractions and enjoy the wonderful experiences that are offered right here at home. While it might be difficult to get a hotel room in Atlanta during next year’s Super Bowl, other times of year are perfect for staying near Centennial Olympic Park. If visiting the city is not for you, there are wonderful lodges and cabins in the Georgia mountains, hotels and camping grounds on the coast, boats to rent on Georgia’s beautiful lakes, and a little bit of history in just about every city or town you pass through along the way.
When we invest in and support tourism, everybody wins.
Michael Owens is the president and CEO of the Tourism Leadership Council in Savannah. He co-authored this column with Morgan Law, the executive director of the Georgia Travel Association.