According to Macon-Bibb County Convention & Visitors Bureau (Macon CVB) President and CEO Monica Smith, visitation to the area over the past year increased about 2 percent over prior year, which is fairly typical for the area. Hotel occupancy fell over the same period while hotel rates increased.
"We've made an effort to focus on marketing Macon as a leisure destination in Atlanta for about a year and a half. We'll be branching out and marketing more regionally in the Southeast region," Smith said.
"We've also worked to make tickets to many local attractions available online, which helps ensure visitors include the attractions in their trip plans."
Macon CVB assists meeting planners, group tour operators and leisure visitors in planning the ultimate tourism and travel experience in Macon, Ga. Their efforts help drive valuable tourism spending into the local economy. According to the U.S. Travel Association, every dollar spent by domestic and international travelers in the U.S. in 2013 led to another $1.35 of economic activity in other industries.
In 2012, the latest figures available, tourism in Macon-Bibb County generated 3,290 jobs and $311.6 million in direct tourism spending. Bibb Country ranked 10th out of 159 counties in Georgia for 2012 tourism expenditures. Tourism spending also generates significant tax revenues for cities, counties and the state of Georgia. In 2012, tourism in Macon-Bibb County generated $12.1 million in state tax revenue and $8.8 million in local tax revenue.
"Tourism is a significant contributor to our local economy. We encourage residents and business leaders to invite people to visit Macon. And if you're involved in a professional association, recommend Macon as a place to hold your annual association meetings," Smith said.
"We would also like to request that CEOs bring relocating executives to our Downtown Visitor Information Center so that we can inform them of the arts, history and culture that Macon has to offer. Companies can also register employees for the free I Am Macon Program, which provides training on how to deliver superior customer service to Macon visitors."
Opportunities to boost tourism
Several initiatives currently under way have the potential to significantly boost the number of visitors to Macon and the length of their stay, according to Smith.
Efforts to expand the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park and transition to a national park have the potential to attract significantly more tourists to Middle Georgia. The U.S. Congress is currently considering bills to rename the monument the Ocmulgee National Historical Park and expand the park's acreage to more than 2,000 acres from about 700 acres. If passed, the bills also would authorize a study to expand the park even further and include additional opportunities for hunting, camping, fishing and other recreational activities. The expanded park could include more than 40,000 acres and become Georgia's first national park. The park would present the story of the many stages of prehistoric and historic cultural development that occurred on the land since Native Americans came to the site to hunt Ice Age mammals.
The Second Street plan to link Mercer University to Coliseum Drive with major street enhancements could also boost tourism, according to Smith. Streetscaping on one block between Cherry and Poplar Streets began on July 28. Improvements will include bike lanes, reverse angle parking, landscaping, shade trees, benches, improved sidewalks and an irrigation system.
The new Tubman African American Museum, which is scheduled to open in spring 2015, will be the largest African American museum in the southeastern U.S., according to Smith. It will anchor Macon's downtown attractions and provide a venue for evening events for conventions and conferences, as well as educational and family programs, classes, musical and dance performances, exhibits, reunions and weddings. One exhibit will focus on the history and impact of African American music and musicians from Macon including Otis Redding and Little Richard.
"Long term, we're looking to riverfront development and development of Lake Tobesofkee to give visitors access to more recreational activities and increase visitation to the area," Smith said.
Creating a Macon brand
Macon CVB works with its partners in the community to market area attractions to prospective visitors. The Ocmulgee Indian Celebration in September and Macon's International Cherry Blossom Festival in March are two examples of events the Macon CVB helps promote.
"Many visitors are just not aware of what Macon has to offer so we try to expand our reach through marketing and building a presence online," Smith said.
"And our branding effort is coming up. We're going to begin work on developing a brand for Macon as a destination and as a community in 2015. That work will help guide our marketing efforts in the future."
More information on the Macon CVB is available at www.visitmacon.org