JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Local tourism bureaus are digging out from a pandemic that shuttered hotels, canceled conventions and stifled travel.
Festivals, like the popular Taste of Alpharetta that draws tens of thousands of people, dissolved in the wake of health threats and social distancing.
In an effort to revive tourism, the Georgia Department of Economic Development has awarded $1.5 million in grants to 35 destination marketing organizations through the Explore Georgia Tourism Recovery Marketing grant program.
In Johns Creek, monthly revenue from the hotel occupancy tax, which funds the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, dropped by 80 to 85% during the pandemic compared to previous years, according to Chairwoman Lynda Lee Smith. Back in February of 2020, the board of directors opted to freeze all non-essential expenditures and have not yet been able to lift it.
This grant, Smith said, will allow the JCCVB to reignite their marketing efforts months earlier than they otherwise would have.
“Given the impact to revenue for the last 15 months, the grant will not put us totally back on track, but it is certainly a jump start which is what we desperately needed,” Smith said.
The JCCVB plans to spend the majority of the $16,500 they were awarded on paid social media campaigns.
“Over the last year during COVID, we’ve done a lot of testing with very little money to see what gets the greatest response,” Smith said. “So, we are going to take the remainder of the grant and invest in additional social media advertising and really drive people to see our fantastic culinary options … and all of our wonderful events that are coming up.”
In Alpharetta, tourism revenue was down 60% from previous years, Finance Director Tom Harris said.
The backbone of tourism revenue for the city, according to Janet Rodgers, president and CEO of the Alpharetta CVB, has transitioned from corporate to leisure travelers over the past year.
Targeting these leisure markets will be the primary goal of the $30,000 grant-funded marketing campaign.
“Having these additional grant dollars to use to specifically target our leisure drive markets and help support our overall efforts to attract more visitors to Alpharetta … will benefit Alpharetta’s local businesses in rebuilding our community’s economy,” Rodgers said.
In Roswell, the CVB received 25% less in allocated tax funds than was budgeted for 2020, Visit Roswell Director Andy Williams said.
The agency will use its $50,000 in grant funding on print and digital advertising, focused on reaching potential tourists all over the southeast.
Visit Roswell receives just under half of the money collected from the city’s 8 percent lodging tax. The city expects to allocate $367,000 to Visit Roswell in the coming year. By comparison, Visit Roswell received $695,000 through the lodging tax in 2019, the year before the pandemic.
“While the travel industry is likely recovering faster than originally expected, we still have a ways to go to get back on track,” Williams said. “However, being awarded funds for recovery marketing is going to have an amazing impact for us. Simply put, these dollars will allow us to expand our reach during a time when Americans, particularly those in the South, are champing at the bit to make travel plans.”
Discover Dunwoody, the CVB for that city, also received grant funding from Explore Georgia in the amount of $72,526. During 2020, Dunwoody occupancy tax revenues were down by 51% as compared to 2019.