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Fall fun means big business
Tourism dollars follow the autumn leaves
Helen is a favorite North Georgia destination during the fall leaf season.

For Dennis Hoover, Labor Day means one thing: Fall is not far behind.

"With Dahlonega being such a tourist town, fall does tend to be the peak season for us," said Hoover, owner of Mountain Laurel Creek Bed and Breakfast, located north of Dahlonega.

"We get excited about the leaves changing color and more business up here," he said.

The inn, which features just five guest rooms, also has added a full-service spa to its facility to pamper guests with facials and massages, among other treatments.

"We have people who tell us the reason they picked us was the spa. It's a nice element that not too many places around here have," Hoover said. Another new twist to fall tourism is the growing field of agritourism. Corn mazes in Dawson, White and Hall counties cater to younger visitors and their parents, who enjoy the blending of outdoor activity and agriculture.

Drew Echols of Jaemor Farm Market opened his corn maze Saturday for the third year. In 2007, more than 120,000 people visited Jaemor during September and October and Echols is hopeful of even more visitors this year.

"Agritourism is a booming segment of agriculture," said Echols. "It is giving farmers a chance to make money on something they already have and are doing."

Echols said an additional benefit is teaching city residents about agriculture. "People are so removed from the farm," he said. "It's a good thing for them to get out and learn about what we do."

While he has worried about the soft economy, he believes the maze serves a niche. "For a lot of people, it is close to home and it is cheaper than a movie," he said. In addition to touring the maze, visitors can purchase fall favorites like boiled peanuts, caramel apples and hot dogs.

Cheryl Smith, a regional representative for the Georgia Department of Economic Development, the agency that promotes tourism in the state, said Northeast Georgia businesses that depend on tourist dollars are both ready and anxious for the big season. "Most that I've talked to are optimistic," Smith said. "There are some accommodations that are not having the number of room nights they would like to have."

She said many of the rental cabins and bed and breakfast inns have built a loyal following of customers who return year after year. Some operators are hoping to at least match last year's business, Smith said.

"The feeling is that if we stay flat, we're doing OK," she said. "If they have more, that's great."

Hoover is hopeful that the increased cost of travel may keep some travelers closer to home, meaning more business for him.

"For us, our greatest help is word of mouth, when people have a good experience here and tell their friends," he said.

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