Georgia GOP convention brings national spotlight and an economic boost to Columbus
Business leaders in Columbus believe the national spotlight on the city during the Georgia Republican Party’s 2023 State Convention will lead to more hosting opportunities.
The convention, which will be held June 9-10 in the Columbus Convention & Trade Center, is expected to generate almost $1 million of economic impact for Columbus, said Peter Bowden, president and CEO of VisitColumbusGA.
“That’s pretty phenomenal,” he said. “That puts it up there with similar conventions, as far as the impact goes, like Georgia Thespians.”
The Georgia Thespian Conference was held in February and boosted the economy by $1.3 million with approximately 5,500 people attending.
A few days after the GOP convention, the Miss Georgia Scholarship Competition will be held at the RiverCenter on June 14-17. This will bring another estimated $500,000 in economic impact to Columbus, Bowden said.
While the number of participants and delegates coming to the GOP state convention is in flux, he said, officials are estimating that around 3,000 people will be attending the convention.
This estimate is based on the number of individuals who will be directly attending the convention, he said, and not individuals who come to the city to be part of the event.
“(They) won’t literally be part of the event,” Bowden said. “But they want to be in Columbus because the former president and other candidates are here.”
Former President Donald Trump is expected to speak at the convention along with former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and others.
Better hotel infrastructure helped bring a high profile event
When Hayley Tillery began as the executive director of the Columbus Trade & Convention Center, she saw potential.
Once the hotel infrastructure in Columbus was strengthened with new hotels downtown, including the Hampton Inn, AC Hotel by Marriott and City Mills Hotel. VisitColumbusGA’s goal has been to collaborate with other organizations like Uptown Columbus, Inc. the Trade & Convention Center and local hotels to leverage the beefed up infrastructure to bring more conventions to Columbus, Bowden said.
“We have a talented team at the Trade Center — some of the best people in hospitality that I know,” Tillery said. “And to not be able to host events, being the second largest city in Georgia, because of hotel rooms was always a challenge.”
Columbus hotels are now almost at capacity, she said. Tillery expects that by the time the convention begins hotels in the city will be completely booked.
The nation will be watching Columbus
The Trade Center has had high profile guests in the past, Tillery said, including former President George W. Bush. But this event will be different in terms of the attention it will bring to the Trade Center and the city because of the media attention on Trump.
Officials are expecting close to 30 national media outlets, she said, which will provide an opportunity to spotlight Columbus. This is something the city needs, Tillery said.
“As someone that’s lived here my whole life, I feel that we have not gone to the capacity to let not only the state know, but the nation know, that we are a town that can support high profile events like we’re about to have.” she said.
With Trump coming to town, Tillery wants to showcase the Trade Center and Columbus as an option for future events.
By hosting an event like the GOP state convention, it gives other meeting planners confidence that Columbus can deliver when hosting large events, Bowden said.
“If it requires this massive coordination of security and bringing together all the other partners — hotels, public safe, city office — then we come together very quickly, and it’s something that we do often,” he said.
The GOP convention and other events like the Miss Georgia competition have a positive impact on businesses, said Ed Wolverton, president and CEO of Uptown Columbus, Inc.
“We’re to the point now, where almost on a monthly basis the Uptown office will notify all the merchants to let them know these groups are going to be here these days,” Wolverton said.
Advanced notice allows businesses to make sure they have enough staff to accommodate an influx of customers who are shopping or dining.
“It takes coordination,” Bowden said. “We know it has happened in the past, like at ThesCon, where some of the coffee shops have run out of coffee.”
Dozens of businesses downtown are now participating in a program called Show Your Badge, that allows people who are attending conferences downtown to receive specials or discounts at local businesses.
These deals could be 10% off an item or a free appetizer at a restaurant, Wolverton said.
“(Businesses) can pick whatever their own special is,” he said. “But that’s another way to encourage delegates to come out into the community and not just be locked into the Trade Center all the time.”
The economic impact from visitor spending creates tax relief for Columbus residents, Bowden said. With this revenue, the Columbus Consolidated Government would have to come up with another way to make up the difference, he said.
“And that, in essence, represents $534 per household,” Bowden said. “Whether that’s in taxes or service fees or however the government wanted to find that money.”
Between July 2021 and June 2022, meetings and conventions in Columbus had an economic impact of around $21.1 million and $304 million of total visitor spending, according to VisitColumbusGA.
“If you don’t bring people to your town,” Tillery said. “And you don’t drive business success, the domino effect could be detrimental to our city. So when people hear the word economic impact, remember that is for you, that is for the citizens.”