Opinion: Safety’s key to restoring Ga. tourism

The Georgia Safety Promise encourages businesses and the public to agree to simple, but critical, measures that will help keep Georgians safe from COVID-19 and minimize spread of the virus.
Entrance to the Brasstown Bald summit

Credit: Kelly Sundstrom

Credit: Kelly Sundstrom

Entrance to the Brasstown Bald summit

Georgia is not only our home, it’s also a popular tourism destination with diverse “assets” – ranging from the mountains to the coast – that attract millions of travelers every year. In fact, in 2019 Georgia welcomed a record 152.3 million visitors to our state.

These travelers visited museums and attractions in Atlanta, strolled the Savannah riverfront, escaped to the natural wonders of North Georgia and the Golden Isles, and discovered our historic downtowns and rural communities. With each hotel stay, meal eaten, local shop purchase, and activity, visitors to and within the state boosted local economies and created jobs for Georgians.

Tourism is an unsung hero of Georgia’s economy. In 2019, the industry played a nearly $69 billion role in our economy and supported 484,056 jobs throughout the state. Tourism positively affects each of Georgia’s 159 counties.

In the wake of COVID-19, our tourism industry was dealt the toughest challenges it has ever seen. In just seven months, the pandemic resulted in a revenue loss of more than $9.6 billion in tourism-related spending for Georgia. Passenger traffic at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport plummeted and hotel rooms across the state saw far too much vacancy. The leisure and hospitality industries were, by far, hardest hit and continue to be a significant source of the current unemployment rate. Restoring the tourism industry is essential to Georgia’s economic recovery, and we can all help.

Mark Jaronski

Credit: contributed

icon to expand image

Credit: contributed

Explore Georgia is the tourism division of the Georgia Department of Economic Development. Throughout the pandemic, our team has worked to understand how the industry was being affected, where it is headed and how to get ahead of the curve. By evaluating industry-leading research, we’ve gained powerful insights that are informing and guiding our decisions. Even at times like this, travel lives in our hearts and minds. Data shows that many of us are taking trips and seeking experiences that keep ourselves and others safe. It’s clear that safety is paramount and has a significant impact on where travelers choose to visit, stay and spend their money. When people feel safe in their own community, people feel safe traveling farther from home. As we lay the foundation for recovery, we are counting on business owners and residents across the state to follow safe practices and play an important role in helping us restore Georgia’s nearly $69 billion tourism economy.

One way we’re welcoming travelers back to our communities is by reopening our 9 state Visitor Information Centers, which closed back in March. We have taken many precautions to keep our staff and visitors safe, including installing new protective barriers, removing touch-points, posting social distancing signage and hand-washing reminders, wearing masks, and enhancing cleaning protocols.

The safety measures we have in place at our Centers support the Georgia Safety Promise, a statewide campaign from Gov. Brian Kemp’s office and the Georgia Department of Public Health. The Promise encourages businesses and the public to agree to simple, but critical, measures that will keep Georgians safe from COVID-19 and minimize spread of the virus. The Georgia Safety Promise helps instill the very consumer confidence that we need for the tourism industry to recover. It empowers business owners and consumers to keep each other safe. It will keep Georgia’s economy open for business.

By wearing masks, washing hands and surfaces, keeping social distance, and staying home when sick, we can create a comfortable and welcoming environment for travelers. And, the attractions, restaurants, shops, accommodations and all the unforgettable experiences we love here in Georgia will be around for years to come.

I’ve spent my entire career in the tourism and hospitality industry, and I’ve seen that time and again, travel has come back from every recession. There is simply no substitute for traveling to spend quality time with family and friends and from traveling to do business in person. When the COVID-19 pandemic ends - and it will - travel will return. Until then, we need each business and resident across the state to follow the simple health measures that will keep you, your fellow Georgians, and our visitors safe. As visitors return to exploring Georgia like they have before, Georgia’s tourism industry will be ready every step of their journey.

Mark Jaronski is deputy commissioner of Explore Georgia, the tourism division of the Georgia Department of Economic Development.