A golf car shuttle service and a downtown visitor center will be rolled out later this year as “early wins” in Augusta’s five-year Destination Blueprint plan, city tourism officials said Wednesday.
“We weren’t going to create a plan and let it sit,” Barry White, CEO of the Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau, said during the annual State of Tourism luncheon co-hosted by the Augusta Sports Council.
White told tourism industry stakeholders an Augusta Commission-appointed task force is working on revising city ordinances to make golf cars street-legal. There is no reason the small-vehicle tours and shuttle services operating in other cities couldn’t be made available in Augusta, the global leader in golf car production and innovation.
“The end goal – the tourism angle – will be realized when visitors can take a guided themed tour or get in a shuttle in downtown Augusta and cruise around,” he said.
Work on the new “Augusta experience center” at 1010 Broad St. began last year. The upper floors of the former antique store will house the visitors bureau’s administrative offices; the ground level will have interactive exhibits and displays that tell the city’s story.
White, who leaves the organization this month to become president of Chattanooga, Tenn.’s tourism board, said the full Destination Blueprint implementation strategy would be unveiled over the summer.
Projects in the five-year plan, which draw heavily from other community master plans produced during the past decade, include creating more public art, expanding the city’s trail system and extending the Augusta Common across Reynolds Street to the riverfront.
The annual luncheon also highlighted the economic contributions of event organizers and meeting planners. Groups coordinated by the visitors bureau and sports council topped $64 million in 2017, for a total economic impact of $41.8 million.
The meeting featured a keynote talk by Adam Sacks, founder and president of Tourism Economics, which developed the economic impact formula used by Augusta and other cities.
The Philadelphia-based consultant said visitor marketing is becoming increasingly important because the tourism segment of the economy has grown more than four times faster than the overall economy since 2001 as Americans spend more disposable income on travel and take larger shares of their accrued vacation time.
To quantify tourism’s impact on the regional economy, Sacks said area residents would have to come up with $529 per household to make up for the $532 million spent by Augusta visitors in 2016. Without that spending, he said, 4,700 jobs would be lost.
“Implicitly, these tourism-related industries are driving economic growth,” Sacks said. “And if not for the tourism industry, there would be even less growth.”
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