2015 Hall travel dollars generated
Expenditures: $299.94 million
Payroll: $62.69 million
State tax: $11.89 million
Local tax: $9.06 million
2015 North Georgia tourism dollars
Travel expenditures: $1.457 billion
Public transportation: $8 million
Auto transportation: $275.6 million
Lodging: $155.8 million
Food service: $140.4 million
Entertainment and recreation: $77.9 million
General retail: $178.3 million
Source: U.S. Travel Association
In the midst of Georgia’s $61 billion tourism boom, Hall County continues to see steady growth in its visitor industry — and its own boom from an unexpected source.
State officials touted Georgia’s estimated tourism haul for 2016 in an announcement on Tuesday. Including direct, indirect and “induced” economic benefits, the state saw $61 billion in economic activity from its visitor industry last year. That’s a record for the state and up from $58.9 billion in 2015, according to Emily Murray, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
Induced benefits are created when an industry creates new or higher paying jobs, boosting household spending in an area that makes it into the pockets of restaurants, repairmen and other goods and service providers.
Georgia’s tourism economy is growing faster than the rest of the United States — 3.5 percent to the nation’s 2.1 percent, according to Pat Wilson, the state’s economic development commissioner. The demand for Georgia tourism is 34 percent higher than its pre-recession market in 2008.
County and regional statistics from 2016 won’t be ready until later this month, Murray said, but the tourism industry is humming along in Hall County and North Georgia based on earlier numbers.
BATTER UP IN HALL
In Hall County alone in 2015, tourists spent $299.9 million — enough for a family of four to stay about 3,734 years at Lanier Islands Resort, or to take everyone in the state out to dinner — and generated 2,750 jobs.
But maybe those families aren’t coming to the county to hit the lake or the Spring Chicken Festival. Maybe they’re coming to Hall to watch their children play sports.
“One of our unexpected strengths is in sports tourism,” said Stacey Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau. “... The sports segment of travel is the only one that not only sustained itself but grew during the recession. It has continued to grow and grow and grow that it is sort of surpassing everyone’s expectation.”
Dickson noted that the county has a large array of athletic facilities to accommodate traveling tournaments and teams.
It’s not just the frequency of sporting events, but how tournaments themselves are structured. Almost a decade ago, many area tournaments changed from single-elimination to double- or triple-elimination structures with off days scheduled between games, Dickson said. On those off days, families are touring the county, hitting restaurants and spending more on hotels.
“It does make up a good chunk of our business,” she said.
In North Georgia, tourists spent $1.457 billion in the region and generated 13,700 jobs in 2015, according to the U.S. Travel Association.
While those tourists are out seeing the sights, they’re saving you money — even if you have to wait a little longer in line for lunch. State and local governments would have to collect an extra $900 from Georgia households each year to equal the taxes generated by the tourism industry, according to the state announcement.
FROM GOLD TO GRAPES
Times are good in North Georgia and wine country — Dahlonega has seen its hotel revenue jump 77 percent in the past nine years, according to David Zunker, tourism director of the Dahlonega-Lumpkin Chamber and Visitors Bureau.
He rattled off a long list of businesses that have opened in the past month and those that are on their way — a Mediterranean restaurant already open on the square, a Mexican restaurant developing with a rooftop bar, a new meadery producing honey wine, a new winery near downtown coupled with a farm-to-table restaurant.
“We’re just far enough away from Atlanta that you feel like you’ve escaped Atlanta,” Zunker said. “We’re not a suburb, we’re not an exurb of Atlanta. We’re our own destination.”
With an almost 50-50 mix of permanent residents and college students, the town has a youthful downtown and a reserve of adults with deep enough pockets to risk on a new business.
One of those entrepreneurs is Michael Miller, an artist and owner of Hall House, a fixture of the Dahlonega square that includes the Bourbon Street Grille, two wine tasting rooms paired with art galleries and a boutique hotel on the second floor.
“We used to have some serious slow time in January and February and into March, and that seems to be getting less and less every year,” Miller said.
The town catches tourists from the surrounding states and Atlanta — areas close enough to do Dahlonega in a weekend, not a week.
“I just hope it keeps up,” Miller said. “That’s all that we’re thinking.”