Flowery Branch would be the new tourism gateway to Hall County as part of a proposal from Georgia tourism officials.
Since November, tourism experts from the Georgia Department of Economic Development have studied the tourism economy of Hall County — the state of its private sector resources, public sector regulations and opportunities for growth. The work was requested by the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Hall County is the latest of more than a dozen counties to be studied by the department.
The state funded the work, but the bureau paid for researchers’ hotel and food while they were in the area, according to its president, Stacey Dickson.
The 15-member team came up with a list of areas ripe for growth — and how to grow them — along with some of the challenges facing Hall County tourism.
“We have it all in Hall,” the county’s motto, is both an asset and a problem for tourism, according to the presenters. The county has Lake Lanier, the area’s largest attraction of tourist dollars, but it also has colorful downtowns, restaurants, history, farms, wineries, trails and a slew of other opportunities that are scattered among municipalities and groups that aren’t working together.
“It’s peculiar in that sense. It’s a place for different interests,” said Janice Marshall, a state consultant based in Macon, at the Flowery Branch Train Depot on Tuesday. “We think that it would be well if you consolidated your brand. Right now in terms of funding you have the city funding part of your marketing and organization and the county funding another part.”
The result is distinct visitors bureaus for both the county and the City of Gainesville. Marshall said it was imperative for the area that the two groups work together on common marketing of the area.
“If you don’t, that’s where the challenge is because it is quite ineffective and goes against all tourism research and expert advice not to have one common brand for this area of Georgia,” she said.
But even so, the report lays out Hall County’s strengths and how it might capitalize on them — beginning with its city-based visitors centers. Pulling traffic information from the Georgia Department of Transportation, the research team found that the large majority of people entering the county are coming from the south and east — with the largest portion coming from Atlanta.
Putting them right in the path of Flowery Branch.
With the City of Flowery Branch about to relocate its public event venue away from the Flowery Branch Train Depot, the state tourism development office is proposing the space be converted into a master visitor center covering the entire county.
“It’s easily accessible from I-985 and the depot can serve as a key gateway into the rest of the area,” Marshall said.
Presenters talked about the benefits of developing green spaces and trails networks, more industry-friendly regulations of agritourism — the combination of wineries or vineyards with events venues or busy farming operations like Jaemor Farms with tourist attractions — and historic preservation as a means of creating character in downtowns that attract out-of-town dollars to hotels and restaurants.
Chris Cannon, assistant director of product development with the Department of Economic Development, talked about more niche area attractions: the work to revive Healan Mill on the Oconee River, the Interactive Neighborhood for Kids, the Georgia Education Museum and the very private training camp for the Atlanta Falcons — all located in Hall County.
Cannon noted that the camp has “very, very limited days” when it’s open to the public in the county.
“What we recommend you doing is approaching the Falcons and see what they’re interested in doing. … Everything we’ve heard so far is very limited,” Cannon said. “What you need to shake in front of their hands is money — what would you be willing to (do) for a VIP who would want to come through?”
Cannon said the Falcons might not bite, but it’s one idea among many to improve the tourism economy in Hall County — the point of the document.
Dickson said the report will be used as a how-to guide for both the public and private sectors in the years ahead.
“To have the opportunity to look at a lot of our partners and say here is a tool, here are some ways to make money using this tool — it’s very rewarding,” Dickson said. “… That to me is the biggest first step.”