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Growing tourism paying off for local businesses
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James and Sarah Washington check in Thursday afternoon at the Holiday Inn-Lanier Centre Hotel on Jesse Jewel Parkway. Most guests have Gainesville as their destination, hotel director of marketing Beth Truelove said. The Washingtons are an exception, stopping over to avoid traffic and the long drive between Gatlingburg, Tenn., and their Echo, Ala. home. - photo by NAT GURLEY

Gainesville hotel/motel tax revenue
Fiscal year 2013: $587,322.58
2012: $564,913.52
2011: $511,626.92
2010: $453,680.98
2009: $475,884.87
Note: Amounts not audited
Source: City of Gainesville

Hotels in Gainesville are seeing a steady stream of guests, and that’s paying off for the city in tax revenue.

The hotel/motel fund has taken in more money for the first three months of fiscal year 2014 than it has for the same period for the past five years. Despite a rainy summer that decreased traffic on Lake Lanier, revenue also outpaced previous summers dating back to 2009. 

June tax receipts generated nearly $62,000, an increase of more than $4,500 since 2012. The city’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30. 

City officials and those in the hospitality business say the city’s many amenities are drawing more tourists. 

Gainesville lodging outfits charge guests a 6 percent tax the city uses to help pay for operations for communications, tourism and parks, as well as pay off debt from building the parking deck at the Brenau Downtown Center, formerly the Georgia Mountains Center. The tax is currently generating about $25,000 more in revenue this year than last year, said Catiel Felts, communications and tourism director. 

“This is money coming into Gainesville from outside the community, which puts less of a tax burden on our community” she said. “That’s why we like it when these numbers are high.”

Beth Truelove, director of sales for the Holiday Inn Gainesville Lanier Centre, said many local hoteliers have reinvested in their respective properties to make them more comfortable.

“We had a very strong summer,” she said.

The hotel/motel tax doesn’t count the total economic impact that benefits other types of businesses when out-of-towners eat out, shop and buy gas.

Dale Hill belongs to the Rod Benders Bass Club, a competitive bass fishing group in Atlanta and one of the largest bass clubs in the country. The club’s more than 53 members can rack up nearly $15,000 in local economic impact when they compete, and they are fond of casting a line in Lake Lanier. 

“As a full group, we come (to Gainesville) two or three times a year as a tournament,” said Hill, marketing director for the club. “We’re going to try to make that five times a year.” 

Deb Gregson, Gainesville tourism and trade manager, works with groups like Hill’s. She said she’s seeing more groups visiting the city. 

“Of course this is our season,” Gregson said. “This is the leaf-changing season. This is when all the festivals are going on.”

Hill said some of the club members were in Gainesville earlier this month for the annual Wackem College Open fishing tournament hosted by the Bass Anglers of the University of Georgia. The event drew 170 competitors and their families to Laurel Park, according to a news release. 

Hill said his group wants to be in Gainesville more, competing and starting community programs, such as mentoring children.

“We’re working on trying to pull together even bigger tournaments that will bring in hundreds of boats from around the region,” Hill said. “Which will definitely even more significantly impact the local economy because you usually have anglers coming from around the Southeast — Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama — coming in to Georgia to fish our tournaments. ... Those gentlemen have to have a hotel, they have to have places. So they’re really going to spend money when they’re local.”

Another major draw of Gainesville is the Lake Lanier Olympic Center, where athletes in rowing, canoeing and kayaking train and compete. The facilities were built for rowing and paddling events in the 1996 Summer Games and remain a popular site.

“They’re practicing on the lake, they’re competing in events on the lake and they’re staying sometimes for several weeks,” Felts said. “Especially in the winter months.”

Large events, even outside Gainesville, also sometimes draw a crowd, including the annual Petit Le Mans road race held last month at Road Atlanta in Braselton.

Gainesville is also attracting more people by doing more advertising, Felts said. The city partners with the Northeast Georgia Mountains Travel Association and the Georgia Department of Economic Development to run ads in national publications.

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