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Lanier among states destinations for foreign travelers
Visitors center may expand ad market internationally in future
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Just as American travelers save up to backpack across Europe, European travelers are exploring the foreign territory of the Deep South on tours organized by international agencies.

Lake Lanier Islands is one of their newer destinations, said Stacey Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"We've definitely had more interest in the past year from international markets," Dickson said. The lake has seen more international attention from travel agencies in the past two years than in the previous six years, she added.

Travel groups from Brazil and the United Kingdom have toured Lake Lanier Islands to consider putting the site on their itineraries.

Marsans, a far-reaching Brazilian agency with itineraries for London, Paris and Miami, has included Lake Lanier in its travel schedules.

"They've just done a big catalog mailing, and there are several itineraries that include lodging at Lake Lanier," Dickson said.

A report from the U.S. Commerce Department's Office of Travel and Tourism Industries reported a 19 percent increase of international travelers to Georgia in 2010, with a 25 percent increase in Atlanta.

"In a challenging economic climate, tourism has been a source of strength as more and more people discover what Georgia has to offer," Gov. Nathan Deal said in a statement.

Travelers often fly into Atlanta for a little urban vacationing and shopping, but before long they want to see the natural beauty of the "genuine Georgia," Dickson said.

The Georgia Visitor Information Center in Lavonia saw a slight increase in international visitors to the northern part of the state, to 2,677 in 2010 from 2,623 in 2009.

"They like the mountains. They like Atlanta. They like the coast. They're looking for diversity," said Beth Kay, manager at the information center.

Representatives from Brazilian company Marsans visited Lake Lanier Islands in the spring of this year and were amazed at the area's natural beauty just an hour outside the big city, Dickson said.

"They were just so amazed that we were so close to Atlanta, and yet a world away. That was a home run for us," she said.

Marsans has an "Atlanta Shopping Extravaganza Fly and Drive," a six-day, four-night excursion to Atlanta, Suwanee and Dawsonville.

The agency mails travel catalogs to its clients that include "hub and spoke" tours, where visitors fly into Atlanta and then leave the city to enjoy water activities at Lake Lanier, canopy tours, farmers markets and other Georgian fun.

Delta sales agents from the United Kingdom have also visited Lake Lanier in the past two years.

Though the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors' Bureau is limited financially to local advertising and outreach, an international focus appears to be just on the horizon, Dickson said.

The bureau has partnered with the Georgia Department of Economic Development to bring more foreign travelers to Lake Lanier.

"It's something that we're building toward, with the end result of seeing more international travel here," she said.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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