ACVB to foreign tourists, conventioneers: Y'all come

Metro Atlanta's largest tourism organization is ramping up efforts to attract more foreign visitors here now that travel from abroad is expected to get easier.

Timed to the spring opening of the new international terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson International, the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau said it will host 25 familiarization tours in 2012 for foreign meeting planners, travel writers and agencies that book visitation.

That's more than double the number the agency has traditionally held for international travel decision-makers. Familiarization tours show off Atlanta to industry leaders through tours of convention facilities and attractions, dinners at local restaurants and tickets to attractions such as Braves games.

"It's all part of a plan to brand ourselves more widely to the international market as we leverage the opening of the new international terminal," said ACVB President William Pate.

The move is a response to what is expected to be smoother inbound international travel at Hartsfield. The new terminal will end the hassle of checking luggage twice for travelers from outside the United States, one of the biggest complaints from foreign visitors.

Hospitality is an $11 billion business in metro Atlanta and leaders are trying to grow visitation and convention attendance. Adding more international tourists will help fill restaurants, hotel rooms and stores.

Charlie Olentine, executive vice president of the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, one of metro Atlanta's biggest convention, said one-fourth of the group's 20,000 convention attendees comes from abroad and that efforts to attract more could be a boon for the city.

"Many people from outside the U.S. will come here to shop," he said. "They come earlier or stay a day later because they can buy things here cheaper than they can at home."

Cele Fogarty, vice president of event services for SmithBucklin, said the global nature of business demands that cities move beyond national borders. Medical education, for instance, knows no boundaries and what is shared here has universal interest.

"If you're not reaching out globally, you're missing out," she said.

Tim Mescon, economist and president of Columbus State University, called the ACVB's familiarization focus an exceptional opportunity that needs to be aggressively pursued. The area is the southeast hub for foreign consulates, global business like Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines and has research universities known around the world.

The changes at Hartsfield will make all of that more attractive.

"The true go-forward opportunity for Atlanta's convention business is to compete more aggressively on a global scale," he said.