Gainesville and Hall County are riding the coattails of a vibrant tourism industry that local officials are hopeful will carry over into the new year.
Visitors to Hall County spent almost $300 million in the local economy, according to a report published earlier this year by the U.S. Travel Association that tracked 2015 tourism-related economic impact at the state, regional and county levels.
Based on expenditure levels generated by visitors, Hall ranked 12th among Georgia’s 159 counties, the Travel report found. Local tourism also accounted for more than 2,700 jobs and generated payroll in the industry of almost $63 million.
Spending by tourists in Hall also contributed $11.89 million in taxes to the state coffers and just over $9 million in local taxes.
Stacey Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau, said 2016 was as strong if not stronger than the previous year, but the hard numbers won’t be released until the Hospitality & Arts Day at the Capitol on Jan. 24.
“I can say that hotel occupancy and average daily rates have been up in Hall County over the past year,” Dickson told The Times.
Dickson said some trends worth watching moving forward are the demand for alternative lodging such as vacation rentals and bed and breakfast type of accommodations.
Also on the horizon, Dickson said, is the potential for hotel development in south Hall County given the interest shown in the area by hotel developers.
Tourism is also booming in Gainesville, according to Catiel Felts, the city’s tourism and communications director.
“Hotels report 2016 as a very good year with corporate travelers packing rooms during the week and leisure travelers on the weekend,” Felts said.
According to the most recent statistics on hand, Felts said direct tourist spending tops $264 million and supports more than 2,500 jobs. Felts said tourist spending generates almost $10 million in state tax revenues and almost $8 million in local tax revenues.
“The Gainesville Square has been a significant destination for us over the past year with more than 125 events.” Felts said.
In 2016, Gainesville Square reported four new businesses, one expansion and the addition of 30 new jobs, according to Felts.
Looking ahead to 2017, Felts said that Gainesville plans to continue working on a citywide wayfinding signage project that will include most local attractions. Additionally, she said gateway signage will be added to Interstate 985 and other major thoroughfares into the city.
Although optimistic about the future, Dickson said she will take a conservative approach to expectations in 2017.
“Depending on what happens with local, state and federal government in the coming year, the tourism industry could see tremendous gains or frightening losses,” she said.
Stakeholders such as the Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus, the Georgia Restaurant Association and Georgia Travel Association will be closely monitoring legislation “to help the industry continue to grow,” according to Dickson.