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Georgia's Hospitality Leaders Urge State Legislators to Exercise Caution
 in Budget Cuts Related to Tourism

By Leon Stafford, The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Feb. 12, 2011--Atlanta and Georgia hospitality leaders have a message for state legislators: cut with caution.

Acutely aware that tourism and related industries like film making are being eyed as for possible savings in the state budget, the leaders have met with elected officials to make a case for sparing as much hospitality funding as possible.

They also have advised treading carefully on immigration reform. A bill considered hostile to immigrants, they said, could hurt visitation, especially among conventioneers sensitive to controversial issues.

"We appreciate the pressure that legislators are under to balance the budget and we wanted to reiterate the value of tourism in increasing revenues and creating jobs," said Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau Executive Vice President of Sales Mark Vaughan.

Tourism's economic impact was more than $31.3 billion in the state in fiscal 2010, down from $34.8 billion in fiscal 2009, according to the most recent numbers available. The Department of Economic Development, the state's hospitality arm, trumpeted that message early in Gov. Nathan Deal's first days in office with a ceremonial check in January.

Still, the department -- whose tourism budget rose to $10.7 million in fiscal 2010 from $10.4 million in fiscal 2009 -- expects to feel the ax of budget cuts, which worries the hospitality leaders.

Although the department's marketing budget is $2 million, which is up over last year's $1.4 million, it remains well under the $4 million allocated in 2009 and $4.4 million in 2008.

In addition to possibly reducing the department's marketing budget, some in the legislature are considering eliminating the tax incentives for film production, a move hospitality leaders said would be devastating to Georgia.

"It's stuff like the film credit [cut]" that made it imperative to reach out to the legislators, said Westin Peachtree Plaza General Manager Ed Walls. "That's just silly."

The group, includes about 40 hoteliers and leaders of hospitality organizations. Earlier this month they ate lunch with state Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, the House Economic Development & Tourism Committee chairman and a strong supporter of the hospitality community, according to Ron Fennel, president of Georgia Capitol Associates, which lobbies on behalf of the industry.

They also met briefly with Gov. Deal and some are planning a trip to Washington in March to speak with Georgia's congressional delegation.

W Hotel Atlanta general manager Tim Dahlen said the legislators they have met all know the value of the industry. Their challenge, he said, is balancing that with requests from other industries that think their value is just as important.

"We set this up because we thought it was important to stay top of mind," he said.


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