Think of an industry that when cultivated and sustained, automatically creates jobs, improves quality of life, generates economic development and can completely revitalize a community. That industry exists, and it is tourism.
Tourism is one of the world’s largest industries and is essential to a community’s economic health, sustainability and cultural identity. In Georgia, tourism is one of the state’s leading industries with an economic impact of $57.1 billion. The impact of the industry goes beyond the direct spending of visitors; it provides employment opportunities for more than 425,000 Georgians across the state. This means that 10.2 percent of all workers in Georgia owe their employment to the tourism industry. The rising economic impact of this industry not only provides revenue and jobs, but it effects nearly every community in Georgia.
Each community in Georgia can benefit from the industry’s successes—whether it’s through attractions, festivals, heritage or culture; a community can pull together its unique offerings and create a sustainable economy. More travelers than ever are walking the historic streets of Savannah, visiting the remnants of Native American culture, exploring antebellum plantations, learning about the Civil Rights Movement and discovering agricultural history around the state. Our unique offerings attract millions of visitors from all over the world each year.
Cultural heritage tourism is an area of interest for travelers that is on the rise, and Georgia is among the top 10 states in the country in heritage tourism visitation. The historic and cultural resources that a community can offer stem from its people, events or aspects of the community’s past that give a sense of identity and help tell its story. These resources are the most tangible reflections of a community’s heritage and can and should be promoted to potential visitors. By spotlighting historic resources, a community can bring about neighborhood revitalization, increased and sustainable tourism, economic development through private investment and citizenship building.
As the tourism industry becomes increasingly important to communities around the state, the need to develop tourism sustainably has also become a primary focus for the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Tourism Division. In October 2009, the tourism division tasked our Tourism Product Development Team with focusing technical assistance on local communities interested in developing their tourism potential. Through this initiative, the Tourism Product Development Team has assisted countless communities with developing sustainable tourism product from existing assets, ranging from events, arts, preservation and more. This work has allowed our industry to increase Georgia’s tourism product portfolio and introduce new audiences to our state’s amazing variety of sites and attractions.
Discovering local culture is one of the basic reasons tourists travel to a destination, to experience the way of life, learn about a community’s history and culture, sample local food and discover how the locals live. These are the reasons travelers set out to discover new areas of the world, whether they are local residents discovering a new part of the state or an international visitor who wants to experience authentic Southern hospitality. Georgia’s communities shape the landscape of travel that our visitors enjoy. For these reasons, I hope you unearth and explore the existing assets in your own community and state. You too can capture the economic benefits that a thriving tourism trade offers.