Improving the countys brand labeling and encouraging its leaders to take better advantage of the Interstate 20 corridor were the primary suggestions offered in a market analysis released today.
Judy Randall of Randall Travel Marketing, which was hired by the county Convention and Visitors Bureau to conduct the research study and strategic marketing plan, said Columbia County lacks signs identifying itself and its amenities to visitors.
The biggest thing missing ... is that sense of place. Its just not there, Ms. Randall told a large crowd of officials and executives at a public meeting in the Evans Government Center auditorium. Basically, youre part of Augusta.
Ms. Randall also suggested that officials revamp brochures and maps that better identify the countys amenities and their locations to visitors.
Ms. Randall called I-20 the countys best asset for attracting tourists.
Though she criticized the county for its lack of visitor centers on the I-20 corridor, she stopped short of recommending that county officials take control of two state-operated rest areas, as suggested by county commission Chairman Ron Cross. Ms. Randall said that effective visitor centers, such as a Florida center designed around an airplane, double as attractions.
Ms. Randall said Columbia County has many great attributes, including Thurmond Lake, excellent recreation facilities and beautiful meeting places such as Savannah Rapids Pavilion.
She also said that the CVB should simplify its mission statement to better coincide with its true purpose, which is putting heads in beds and making cash registers ring.
The marketing plan was devised based on surveys; input from mystery shoppers; reconnaissance trips; interviews; and state, regional and national data.
Other suggestions Ms. Randall had for improving tourism in the county included focusing on waterfront development, building an exhibit facility at the fairgrounds on Columbia Road, adding more unique or fine dining opportunities, and improving marketing materials and public access to those materials.
Its stuff that we needed to hear and its a lot of information that we can use, said CVB Executive Director Beda Johnson.
Ms. Johnson said the CVB Board of Directors will meet with Ms. Randall on June 17 to discuss further her marketing strategies and research results.
By the numbers
$199.51: Tax relief per household generated by tourism dollars spent in Columbia County
16,952: Number of visitors in 2008 to the CVB Web site
15: hotel, motel, and bed and breakfasts properties in Columbia County
$25 million: Amount in taxes earned with tourism in Richmond County
$6-7 million: Amount in taxes earned with tourism in Columbia County
70.3: Percentage of repeat visitors to Columbia County
4.06: Overall satisfaction rate of visitors to Columbia County based on a 5.0 scale
31.4: Percentage of visitors to Columbia County here for business purposes
23.1: Percentage of visitors to Columbia County here for military purposes