|By Leon Stafford, The Atlanta
Journal-ConstitutionMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
July 26, 2011--Efforts to make Atlanta and Georgia an international destination are paying off, both in visits to the metro area and the state.
In 2010, the number of international travelers to Georgia increased 19 percent while foreigners coming to Atlanta grew a whopping 25 percent, according to figures recently released from the U.S. Commerce Department's Office of Travel & Tourism Industries.
Totals on domestic visitors to the state in 2010 won't be available until later in the year.
The increase in international visitation is good news because tourism is one of the biggest industries in the metro area and the state, employing more than 233,000 in related jobs including hotels, restaurants and attractions.
It also may be a sign of a turnaround for metro Atlanta, which saw visitor spending drop 11 percent in 2009 to $9.8 billion dollars. It had been as high as $11.4 billion in 2006 and 2007.
"In a challenging economic climate, tourism has been a source of strength as more and more people discover what Georgia has to offer," Gov. Nathan Deal said in a statement.
Some metro Atlanta attractions saw a modest increase in international visitors last year while others said it was about the same.
"We've seen a little growth, but not as much as the state has cited," said Jeanine Jones, a spokeswoman for Stone Mountain Park, which does not release attendance figures. "Of course, a little bump is nice."
The Georgia Aquarium, one of the state's biggest attractions, said its visitation numbers were flat last year at about 2.2 million people.
The state's overall 2010 international visitation numbers grew despite tight marketing budgets. The state Department of Economic Development, for instance, had almost $6 million to market Georgia tourism in fiscal 2010. That dropped almost one million dollars in fiscal 2011. In fiscal 2012, which began this past July 1 and ends June 30 next year, the funding slims down more to $4.9 million.
To adjust, the state has narrowed its focus. Instead of advertising in foreign markets, the economic development department strategically targets tour operators and media in areas such as Europe and Asia, said Kevin Langston, deputy commissioner for the Tourism Division.
"We have made a strong push into the only two major global markets not adversely affected by the recession the past several years --China and Brazil --and we're seeing that effort pay off," Langston said.
"One of the top draws for both of these markets is the great shopping we offer here in Georgia," he said. "It is cheaper for travelers to buy designer labels and electronics here and take them back home than to buy them there."
Georgia State University School of Hospitality Director Debra Cannon said having the world's busiest airport doesn't hurt.
"Atlanta's easy access, because of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, brings people to Georgia as a base for their travel," she said.
Savannah Area Convention & Visitors Bureau President Joseph Marinelli said cities help Georgia by tagging along with state representatives on marketing trips abroad, including the visits his agency has made to England and Germany.
"Our international sales and marketing efforts and initiatives are beginning to show some positive returns," said Marinelli, adding that Savannah saw the numbers on overnight travelers -- those who get hotel rooms -- increase by more than 200,000 in 2010 compared to the year before.
Cobb County leaders are not surprised by increasing interest in the state or in metro Atlanta. The Cobb Convention and Visitors Bureau in June released a study that found travel and tourism to be worth more than $1.73 billion to the county and employing over 25,000. The top draws: Six Flags Over Georgia and Six Flags White Water.
"Tourism is the welcome mat to economic development," said Holly Bass, chief executive officer of the Cobb Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Places that lure people to Georgia
Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site
World of Coca-Cola
Kennesaw Mountain National Historic Park
To see more of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.ajc.com.
Copyright (c) 2011, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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