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Tuesday, December 10, 2013 - 11:30am

Tourists, Don't Leave Out Southwest Georgia

Tourism officials from across the state are getting ready for a heritage and cultural tourism seminar this Thursday and Friday in Thomasville. Organizers hope the meeting will spotlight southwest Georgia

The state Department of Economic Development is looking to hire its first tourism project manager for southwest Georgia in two years.

Georgia is divided up into nine travel regions when it comes to state tourism efforts. And since 2008, the state has cut the tourism division’s budget by more than three and a half million dollars. In 2011, budget cuts even led to personnel cuts. And that’s when the 26-county region in southwest Georgia lost its tourism project manager. Since then, a manager from another region has helped out part-time.

But Adrienne Harrison, executive director of the Bainbridge Convention and Visitors Bureau, says that wasn’t enough. Local tourism officials have been lobbying the state to reinstate the position.

“We deserve a full-time rep,” she said. “Just because we’re southwest Georgia doesn’t mean we don’t deserve the same things that all the other eight travel regions have. Tourism is very important down here. A lot of us, that’s the only economic development that we have,” she said.

Harrison says a full-time tourism manager will help coordinate efforts from all the region’s towns and cities.

Amy Johnson, Main Street and Marketing Director for the city of Moultrie says the city's downtown area is the centerpiece of the community.

" Without the Main Street program and the viable downtown program that we have, we might not get some of the new jobs and industries that we’ve been getting.”

Johnson points out there are many benefits to a coordinated tourism effort.

“We hope that those that come for tourism, we hope that they end up moving here,” she said. “So we’ve had a lot of that. You know they find out that Moultrie is a quaint town and they end up moving here as well. And they came here just as a tourist.”

Johnson says she believes the area will also benefit by getting a voice at the state level as officials in Atlanta plan new ways to promote Georgia.

Rachelle Beasley, director of Albany’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, says local tourism officials have been trying to work together in the interim, and she believes some strong relationships have formed as a result.

But southwest Georgia is the largest travel region in the state, and she says having one person who is able to focus on the whole region will help target those efforts better.

Beasley says the state is trying to focus more on agri-tourism, and a dedicated project manager will help showcase all that southwest Georgia has to offer.