Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue is set to create a task force to bolster tourism, saying the budget for the state's second-largest industry is "shamefully one of the lowest in the region."
A tourism task force will be one of six public-private partnerships rolled out to reassess policy issues throughout the state. The tourism group will tap the "best private sector minds" to form a strategy on how best to buoy the industry.
"We haven't done what we should have been doing about tourism ... I'm going to admit that," Mr. Perdue said during the annual Governor's Conference on Tourism.
Speaking before almost 500 public officials and hospitality professionals Friday at Radisson Riverfront Hotel Augusta, the governor pledged to do more even as the state suffers under a $650 million deficit.
The theme that tourism is largely ignored was echoed during the three-day gathering, featuring workshops and seminars on how to better market the state.
Other prominent speakers included Glen Cornell, the commissioner of the Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism, and his deputy, Janis Cannon, who talked about tourism as an opportunity to grow the state tax base and create jobs.
The conference came to Augusta for the first time in a decade.
As the biggest industry after agriculture, tourism contributes at least $23 billion to state coffers each year, state figures show. In Augusta, taxes from local tourism generate $13 million for city coffers and support 7,000 jobs.
Another plus for tourism, the governor said, is that it is not prone to the global forces luring away much of the state's manufacturing jobs.
"It's not like you can take Stone Mountain and export it to China. Or take our beautiful golden coast and put it anywhere else," Mr. Perdue said. "And certainly you can't take the Augusta National. It just can't be duplicated."
Changes in the industry since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks also play into Georgia's strengths, he said, because the current focus is more on domestic travel than on traveling abroad. States such as Georgia and others in the Southeast should then be better able to attract more visitors.
Next summer's G-8 summit outside Savannah and the Southern Governor's Conference the year after also should go a long way in getting Georgia some recognition, Mr. Perdue said.
The summit is expected to bring hundreds of millions of dollars to the Savannah economy, when heads of state from the leading industrial nations meet in Sea Island, a resort south of the city.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to showcase Georgia as an enjoyable place; a hospitable place to come for business or for leisure," he said.
"We haven't done what we should have been doing about tourism." Gov. Sonny Perdue, on the state's tourism industry
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