Opinion: Georgia’s now traveling into its tourism future

State’s travel industry is becoming more sustainable, innovative, diverse and globally competitive.
The Center for Human and Civil Rights is shown in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday, March 14, 2018. (Reann Huber/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Combined ShapeCaption
The Center for Human and Civil Rights is shown in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday, March 14, 2018. (Reann Huber/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

As Georgia has led the nation out of the pandemic, we are planning a future for our state’s travel industry that is bold, imaginative, competitive, and helps Georgians and their businesses – especially small businesses – thrive.

Our team at Explore Georgia, the tourism division of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, recognizes the critical role the industry plays in our local economy, fostering sustainability, ushering in new innovations, and reconnecting with each other and the world.

Travel is not only an important part of who we are as a society, it’s a powerful economic engine, supporting jobs and driving local economies. In 2019, Georgia travel and tourism generated a total economic impact of $69 billion and supported 484,000 jobs.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

While the industry was hit hard by the impacts of COVID, travel demand in Georgia remained stronger than in most other states. Thanks to the leadership of Gov. Brian Kemp and our General Assembly, we are recovering and repositioning for future growth. Our “open-for-business” approach helped Georgia increase market share, moving from No. 7 in 2019 to No. 5 in 2020 for domestic overnight trips, according to market research firm Longwoods International. The headstart that state leadership gave us enabled Georgia to maintain that market share in 2021 as more states opened to visitors and restarted tourism marketing.

In Georgia, we recognize the importance of travel, and that’s why we are focused on positioning our brand of travel for an even stronger future by reimagining the industry to become more sustainable, innovative, diverse and globally competitive than ever before.

The future of travel is sustainable. Georgia attracts more than 152 million domestic and international guests each year, including to destinations along the coast such as Jekyll Island. Protecting and restoring our natural wonders, such as state parks, national forests, and beaches, ensures they can be enjoyed for generations to come. Businesses are joining the cause, with sustainable products and practices that both help preserve our environment and attract eco-conscious travelers. Destinations across our state place a priority on sustainability and promote these concepts to travelers. With the right plans in place, travelers can see and experience our state, while also protecting it.

The future of travel is innovative. Cities throughout Georgia are committed to investing in technologies and cutting-edge products and services for both leisure and business travelers. We are improving travel to and within our state through advancements such as electric vehicle (EV) charging stations (Georgia has more than 1,470 public charging stations and over 30,000 EVs on the road), mobile visitor centers in cities like Roswell and Columbus, and more. In Athens, the new Classic Center Arena opening in 2023 will have the ability to transform for any type of event and is expected to generate an estimated $30 million annual economic impact. By investing in travel and tourism innovations, we are stimulating future demand.

The future of travel is diverse. It reflects and incorporates the many people, places and points of view that make our communities so unique. Destinations in Georgia, from Albany to Atlanta, have led the way in championing and celebrating diversity. In our capital city, impactful offerings include the National Center for Civil and Human Rights and new travel guides that amplify underrepresented voices and opportunities. Our state’s travel industry is uniquely positioned to power a future that is more intentional in incorporating the diversity of our society.

The future of travel is globally competitive. Promoting the United States of America as a premier destination for global travelers has never been more important. The future of travel is connecting with the global community and safely welcoming back international travelers. Destinations like Savannah – the “Hostess City” – have lived up to their monikers in welcoming international visitors with Georgia’s legendary hospitality. Increasing our global competitiveness is key to reviving our economy and ensuring a return to strong, diversified growth.

The future of travel is in person. Business travel and professional meetings and events are irreplaceable and critical to the tourism industry’s recovery. State leadership gave the tourism industry license to operate and cities across Georgia led the return to safe, in-person meetings, adapting and expanding their facilities and offerings for groups of all sizes. The personal connections made at meetings and events are evidence that, while sometimes convenient, virtual meetings are no match for how relationships – and business – have been built and nurtured for decades.

At Explore Georgia, we are focusing on a future where travel is the heartbeat of our communities and businesses, welcoming visitors from around the globe to dive into what can only be experienced here in our state. As we continue to shift our focus forward, Georgia is defining the future of travel today.

Mark Jaronski is deputy commissioner for Tourism, Georgia Department of Economic Development.

About the Author