"WHEN YOU GO, take half the clothes and twice the money." There's good reason for this time-honored travelers' tip: Travelers spend a lot - on food, lodging, transportation, tickets, trinkets and a tote-bag full of other needs and wants.
In Augusta/Richmond and Columbia counties, that spending comes to an impressive $452 million annually spent by 1.5 million guests. While they are here enjoying themselves, visitors add more than $12 million to local tax revenues.
Put another way, our guests spend about $1,500 for every man, woman and child in our area. That is money guests bring with them and leave behind with us.
Who are these visitors and why do they choose metro Augusta? Of course, many thousands arrive for the Masters Tournament or other sports events. But throughout the year, guests travel to Augusta for both leisure and business. A significant number come here to attend meetings and conventions.
Augusta has enjoyed tremendous success as a conventions and meeting destination. The Augusta Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau works with more than 250 conventions and meetings each year representing 200,000 delegates spending an average of $207 per day.
Our community has hosted many large, city-wide groups such as the Georgia Republican Convention (2,500 delegates) and the North Georgia Methodist Conference (2,300 delegates). Our region's success as a meeting destination also is evident by the investment made in expanding our riverfront conference center and hotel complex.
Metro Augusta currently offers a wide variety of meeting and convention space in hotels and other facilities. Options include traditional convention hotels, suite hotels, historic inns, limited service and economy properties, with a choice of geographic locations including downtown, interstate, Washington Road and the Bobby Jones Expressway areas. Unique non-hotel meeting space includes historic venues, attractions and modern facilities located anywhere from downtown to Washington Road to rural areas to the banks of the Augusta Canal.
AUGUSTA'S SUCCESS in attracting conventions and meetings is not an accident. It is the result of diligent work by many city supporters - from the vision of leaders who saw and continue to see the potential of our community's unique assets, to the daily efforts of the sales and marketing professionals representing area hotels and attractions.
In addition, our staff at the Augusta Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau works tirelessly to present our community's assets to prospective visitors. (I'm pleased to note that these efforts were recognized Sept. 8 by the Southeast Tourism Society when the AMCVB was named the 2000-2001 convention and visitors bureau of the year.)
But make no mistake, competition for visitor dollars is intense and intensifying. Cities of every size recognize the potential of visitor spending and are putting services and infrastructure in place to compete.
Our own community has an enviable history of perceiving these needs and putting facilities in place to meet them. In the 1970s, it was a multi-purpose civic center; in the 1980s and early 1990s a riverfront conference center; and now an expansion of that complex. If Augusta wishes to compete for large meetings and conventions in the 21st century, we must plan today for facilities that meet tomorrow's needs.
What kind of facility might we be talking about? One gap in our portfolio is a dedicated trade show facility consisting primarily of one large, flat-floor space for exhibitors for trade or consumer shows and other large events which require flat-floor space. In addition to accommodating this specialized type of convention requirement, such a space would allow local citizens to enjoy consumer shows such as boat, craft or home and garden shows.
CAN OR SHOULD our community support building such a space to supplement our existing facilities? The board of directors of our CVB believes it is time to conduct a study to answer that question. The study should first determine if a facility is even needed or appropriate.
If the findings support construction of a convention and trade facility, the study should answer these questions: 1) what size facility can this community support, 2) where should the facility be located, 3) how should the facility be funded, 4) what economic benefit can the community expect from a new facility and finally, 5) should the facility be combined or co-developed with related public-assembly facility projects now under consideration - such as a performance center?
WILL OUR community continue to claim its rightful share of visitor and convention spending and the prosperity it brings? What actions today will equip us to earn those dollars tomorrow? Now is the time to begin asking and answering these questions.
(Editor's note: The writer is the executive director of the Augusta Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau.)