Georgia's tourist industry has too long been overlooked as a way to enhance economic development.
That sentiment resonated among tourist officials and hospitality professionals who met Thursday at Radisson Riverfront Hotel Augusta to talk about a strategy to attract visitors and build what's already the state's second-biggest industry after agriculture.
"It's surprising to me that we've been so slow because the type of returns we can get from tourism are so good," said Glen Cornell, who was appointed by the governor as the commissioner for the Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism at the beginning of the year.
Getting lawmakers to look at funds earmarked for tourism as an investment rather than an expense is part of the overall challenge, Mr. Cornell told about 450 people attending the annual Governor's Conference on Tourism.
The three-day conference came to Augusta for the first time in a decade and ends today.
To boost his case, Mr. Cornell pointed to the $1 million the state allocated to help market tourism after the Sept. 11 attacks. The state tracked the money and found that for every $1 spent, there was a $7.63 return in tax collections.
"As a former banker, I can tell you that's a huge return," he said. "It has the same type of economic impact as you have with a manufacturing facility."
Tourism is also what he calls a clean business.
"People spend money, pay taxes and go home. There's no need to build them schools and infrastructure," he said.
Although manufacturing may create more jobs than a hotel, for instance, the hotel generally pays more taxes and stimulates more spillover spending, such as with restaurants and shops.
Other issues discussed were the need to develop Georgia's 90 miles of undeveloped coastline and better brand the state as a place people will pencil into their travel plans.
Janis Cannon, the state deputy commissioner for tourism, is pushing a unified "Georgia on My Mind" marketing campaign that she hopes will one day have as familiar a ring as the "I Love New York" tag line.
"Right now we have 100 state agencies using over 1,200 different messages, icons and typefaces to promote Georgia," she said. "We need to organize under one effort to position Georgia as a place to live, work and play."
Reach Matthew Mogul at (706) 823-3352 or firstname.lastname@example.org.