In an effort to learn more about the direction and trends in tourism which may be applicable to our community, Pickens Chamber of Commerce President Denise Duncan, Post Commissioner Becky Denney, 2012 Chamber Citizen of the Year Amelia McIntyre, and I attended the 2014 Governors Tourism Conference held in Augusta during the first week of September. The event included speakers at the general sessions, a trade show featuring a multitude of companies offering a wide variety of service, and numerous break-out sessions that focused on specific topics. The attendance was in excess of 500 people from all over Georgia with many representing Convention and Visitors Bureaus, but also a large number from Chambers of Commerce and local government, in addition to representatives from many different types of tourist venues.
The amount of information available was almost overwhelming and in order to learn as much as possible our group conferred daily about the various sessions with each of us selecting a different one to attend with focus on topics most relevant to tourism opportunities in our community. One I found particularly interesting was Agritourism 101 because it used a 102 year old farm in Alto, Georgia as the example, and their formula for success is already being used in our area. The opening of the gates to the public for tours, school field trips, and access to “pick your own” areas, along with the development of retail outlets selling canned and baked goods in addition to produce, provided both an additional revenue stream for the farm as well as a tourist attraction for the community. To highlight the change in thinking, one of the owners said they used to hire help to keep people out of the pumpkin patch, and now they hire them to direct people to it.
Key speakers at the general sessions included Deputy Commissioner Kevin Langston from the Georgia Department of Economic Development Tourism Division who spoke about initiatives like the redesigned ExploreGeorgia.org website, and Governor Deal, who emphasized the positive economic impact on the state by the $5.1 billion industry.
Industry experts were also featured and according to Kelly McDonald, author of How to Market to People Not Like You, an awareness is needed about changes in racial make-up and in diversity because in order to be highly successful, targeted marketing efforts are required. Young Strategies founder, Berkley Young, outlined general traits of people at different stages of life such as those in their 20’s are typically idealistic, reality sets with people in their 30’s, once in their 40’s they get squeezed by money and family pressures, people in their 50’s are often at their peak in terms of career & earnings, and finally individuals in their 60’s and beyond move from full time jobs to hobbies, causes, and perhaps minor occupations. It was suggested that effective tourism marketing campaigns tailor the message to each segment and incorporate a variety of media including traditional and digital.
Although not planning a ground-breaking during Marble Festival as mentioned in offhand comments during the Chamber breakfast presentation in May, engineering work on the Port Royal Resort project continues and if this comes to fruition will be a good fit with many trends identified at the conference including the merging of business and leisure travel with family members being included on trips to meetings and conferences. Events such as the Marble Festival and JeepFest also stand to benefit which is good news for increasing tourism based economic development in Pickens County and the City of Jasper.