Lawmakers get a taste of tourism impact

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ATLANTA --- Legislators accustomed to sweet talk and promises of financial benefits got something more tangible Tuesday when representatives of the tourism industry across the state brought them samples of their wares and news of the industry's $816 million impact on the state budget.

Phil Tucker, the doorkeeper for the House of Representatives, reaches for a sample of Leopold's Ice Cream, from Savannah, as his wife, Elloise, considers her first bite at the Capitol.   Walter C. Jones/Morris News Service
Walter C. Jones/Morris News Service
Phil Tucker, the doorkeeper for the House of Representatives, reaches for a sample of Leopold's Ice Cream, from Savannah, as his wife, Elloise, considers her first bite at the Capitol.

As lawmakers are struggling with trying to balance the state's budget during a period of weak tax collections, news of an industry pumping in tax revenue might seem welcome enough, but the restaurants, lodges, hotels and other businesses sweetened the sales pitch with goodies from each region of the state.

There were samples of Leopold's Ice Cream from Savannah, Chinaberry Foods' cheese straws from Thomson and fried peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches from southwest Georgia -- not to mention plenty of spices, barbecue sauces and other treats.

House Doorkeeper Phil Tucker and his wife, Elloise, enjoyed the ice cream so much they got seconds.

"We've been to Savannah, but I didn't ever have any of this," Tucker said. "It's better than the Bluebell we normally eat. This is homemade."

"I'd buy some of this," his wife said.

That's the impression the industry wants to make, according to Jeannie Buttrum, the tourism specialist for the state based in Augusta for the Classic South Region.

"We want to show the economic impact, which is more than just people taking a vacation. They also like to buy Georgia-made and Georgia-grown products," she said.

Part of the reason for the event was to impress new lawmakers with the importance of funding the state's tourism-marketing efforts.

"We are very mindful of the fact that we have 40-some-odd new legislators, and we need to acquaint them with tourism," said Amy Clark, the marketing director of the Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Kevin Langston, the state's assistant commissioner of economic development for tourism, acknowledges that his agency has suffered budget cuts, but he is initiating a co-operative advertising campaign in which the state stretches its budget by sharing the cost for ads with hotels, attractions, tour operators and others in the industry.

"We just have to get smarter about how we market," he said.

He persuaded Savannah-based chef Paula Deen and her sons to pose for marketing materials, including the cover of the state's tourism guide. The state is also targeting Civil War buffs to draw them to the battlefields and other sites around the state during the four-year observation of the 150th anniversary of the war. A state Web site, GACivilWar.org, lists events around the state.

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