Georgia governor speaks at tourism conference in LaGrange

Published 6:41 pm Wednesday, September 11, 2019

By Alicia B. Hill

The 2019 Georgia Governor’s Tourism Conference ended on a high note on Wednesday with an address from Gov. Brian Kemp, where he discussed the impact that tourism is having on Georgia’s economy.

Check-in for the conference began on Friday, and by its conclusion, an estimated 512 people had attended, making it the fourth largest conference to be hosted at Great Wolf in LaGrange to date. This year was also the first time that the annual tourism conference was hosted in the Presidential Pathways portion of the state, and Kemp’s speech on Wednesday addressed the impact of travel professionals and destination marketers on the state as a whole.

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“The tourism industry is a key piece of Georgia’s success, and I’ve known that for a long time,” Kemp said on Wednesday. “[Tourism is] an economic driver for our state.”

Kemp said tourism partners often serve as a first impression of the state for businesses considering moving to the area.

“When you have business people that are coming in to see about moving into Georgia, they are staying in local hotels,” Kemp said. “They are dining at the local restaurants, and they are experiencing that southern hospitality, which is so great for us. It is a great selling point in literally every part of our state, and I want to congratulate you all on another record-breaking year.”

Georgia has seen high numbers of tourists in recent years, which translates to billions of dollars in economic impact for the state each year.

“We’ve all talked a lot today about the numbers and what tourism means for this state — $66 plus billion of impact, 471,000 jobs across the state,” said Pat Wilson, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development. “That is fantastic.”

According to Kemp, there have been more than 111 million visitors to the state of Georgia this year, and those visitors support tourism jobs throughout the state.

“Every year, Georgia welcomes international visitors throughout our state, and we all know the rise in demand from travelers creates more jobs for hard working Georgians and increases revenues in our local communities,” Kemp said. “That is why I know folks from Troup County are really glad you folks are here this week, spending money in their local community.”

Those visitors also inject funds into local economies.

“When new and repeat visitors stay in our communities, they stay in our hotels,” Kemp said. “They fill up their cars with gas. They are eating in our restaurants, supporting our small-business owners. They are shopping in our stores and many, many other things. … The money that our visitors spend in Georgia generates that tax base for hard working Georgians in our local communities.”

The City of LaGrange sees hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in funds from hotel/motel taxes, even before Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue from those visitors is considered. Local officials are then able to use funds resulting from tourism to better the community.

“From visitors spending $3.4 billion in state and local taxes — which is generated from all of this — they are used to fund our schools, our libraries, parks, essential services, as well as public safety,” Kemp said. “Enhancing travel related offerings and sustaining healthy tourism helps the state thrive and create pro-business climate. It helps increase our standard of living, certainly our accommodations, transportation, and it provides so many other great things that do make our state such a great place to live, work and play — like the outdoors, art and entertainment.”

Part of the job of the job of many of those at the conference is to tell potential visitors about those very amenities.

“What is great about this industry — which you are all in —is we get to celebrate us,” Wilson said. “We celebrate ourselves as Georgians, what makes this state unique, what makes us have pride in ourselves, what makes us have pride in our communities. Really the beauty of that is that you guys by being proud of our state and proud of what makes us Georgians, you create jobs.”