When a tourism event is in town, local residents may see a sports team dining at a restaurant, extra boats on the lake or businesspeople spending an evening on the square.
While tourists may only stop in Gainesville and Hall County for a day or two, the dollars they spend can stay in the community long after they leave — and tourism officials have their own tools to track that impact.
The Georgia Department of Economic Development offers tourism officials in the state access to an Economic Impact Calculator that can help determine how much an event can boost a local economy. The state purchased the tool from a vendor in 2015.
The calculator takes information such as the estimated number of visitors, number of overnight stays, average hotel room rate in the area, and admission cost for the event to estimate the economic impact of the event. The tool also breaks the spending down into categories such as lodging, transportation, and food and beverage purchases.
The calculator can be used to predict the impact of an event beforehand, or actual numbers of participants and room stays can be used after the event to evaluate how it went.
Tourism officials can then use that data in planning future events for their area.
“They want to know whether or not something is going to be a good investment for them. They want to know how they can improve things year over year, and they want to make sure that they are getting out of it what they’re putting into it,” Ashley Barfield, director of tourism research for the Georgia Department of Economic Development, said.
Meggan Hood, director of brand strategy for the economic development department, said economic impact also shows tourism officials the results of all the work they have done to recruit or plan events and help tourists navigate the process.
“Events are costly. They take both time and money from a community, to create a really good event,” Hood said. “Communities will experience these events, they’ll think positively or negatively about them, and for people who run events, (economic impact is) one of the most important things to help people understand the impact of an event, beyond some people showed up in my town that day.”
Events that can seem small can impact businesses or other stakeholders more than they expect, Hood said.
“If there’s a festival that goes on for the day in the town square, obviously the people who participate in that festival and sell goods and sell food understand that they’ve done well or they’ve had a good day, but maybe the owner of the gas station a block away may not see or understand that they’re also benefiting,” Hood said.
Regina Dyer, manager of the Gainesville Convention and Visitors Bureau, uses the state’s calculator to estimate the impact of events and prioritize what events may need some extra work as they prepare to come to the city.
“There are so many events out there, and of course we want to be involved with as many events as possible, but there are criteria we have to look at. Having a positive economic impact on the community will definitely boost an event and give them a little more priority,” Dyer said. “We have to be selective, and that helps us see what events are bringing the people in, what events are benefiting the community.”
The American Collegiate Rowing Association Championships, held annually at Lake Lanier, usually generates an economic impact of about $300,000, Dyer said. The Georgia State Square Dancers Association held a convention at the Gainesville Civic Center in September that generated about $225,000, she said. Spending at smaller events can add up, too. The Longstreet Society’s recent conference required about 50 hotel rooms for three nights, a total of about $15,000 just for lodging. One fishing tournament can generate more than $200,000, Dyer said.
The Gainesville CVB is funded by the city’s hotel-motel tax, an 8% fee charged on hotel rooms in the city. Events that require hotel stays benefit both the hotels and the CVB’s efforts, Dyer said. Hotel-motel tax reports also track room stays, which increase when an event has been held, she said.
Stacey Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau, also uses the state’s economic impact calculator and said she likes how nuanced it is, taking into account the type of event and location.
“An overnight guest for an event in downtown Atlanta is likely to spend more than the same visitor attending an event in Gainesville,” she said. “Hotel rates, dining and entertainment cost more in that region than here.”
State data shows that when a tourist comes to the area for business or leisure travel, not just an event, they spend an average of $82 a day, Dickson said.
Like Dyer, Dickson said she keeps in touch with hotels about the business they’re getting to give her an idea of tourism activity.
Tourism destinations can also use their own tools to track visitor activity, she said.
“Some destinations use the services of companies who not only track a potential visitor while they are searching for vacation destinations from their home, but they are able to follow them as they travel, push special offers to them in real time and follow up with them when they return home,” Dickson said. “It’s a little intrusive, but in the long run it helps destinations to target their most likely visitor and serve people who are genuinely interested in visiting the information they desire.”