Free publicity bolsters tourism

Twitter and Facebook pages are popping up everywhere to promote Georgia convention and visitors bureaus. While many cities and counties rely on these outlets, Athens has a new promotional tool that could be a surefire way to bring tourism to town.

In January, Athens was named one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations. Twelve cities are recognized with the annual award for excellence in “dynamic downtowns, cultural diversity, attractive architecture, cultural landscapes and a strong commitment to historic preservation and revitalization,” according to the National Trust website.

Athens was nominated by the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation, Convention and Visitors Bureau and Welcome Center, and letters of support were penned by several noteworthy Athenians.

The Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation is planning a year of special events to commemorate the honor. In cooperation with the Convention and Visitors Bureau and Welcome Center, the ACHF will host tours of Athens’ historic architecture.

Athens is the fourth Georgia city to be recognized. It was preceded by Thomasville in 2000, Jekyll Island in 2003 and Macon in 2004. Representatives from the towns’ local convention and visitors bureaus said that the free press was one of the perks of winning the award.

The press seems to come easily to the Dozen Distinctive Destinations winners. The National Trust provides press releases tailored for the individual cities that can be sent to media outlets and in promotional literature.

The press release, featured on both the National Trust and Athens Welcome Center websites, boasts Athens’ cultural charm and the city’s dedication to historic preservation.

“For nearly 30 years, the revitalization and preservation of downtown Athens has kept the district pulsing with energy from morning through night,” the press release reads. “The restored Victorian-era buildings that line the heart of the downtown area house an eclectic mix of more than 70 specialty retailers, 60 popular eateries and 50 taverns and nightspots.”

All of the recognized cities will be featured in an issue of Preservation, the National Trust’s nationally-circulated magazine, which boasts nearly half a million subscribers. The National Trust’s website also features a page for each city.

Georgia winners have used the promotional tools provided by the National Trust to their advantage. Getting the word out about the designation is a method some have used to bolster tourism.

The Macon CVB and the City of Macon held a joint press conference and distributed news releases to local and out-of-market media to announce the award, Ruth Sykes said. Sykes is the vice president of media relations and marketing for the Macon CVB.

The impact of the promotions on tourism is difficult to quantify.

“We did not perform a conversion study to see if the designation was directly responsible for any tourism increases during that time,” Sykes said.

Community members outside of the tourism sector benefit from the award as well.

“Macon’s preservation-oriented community took great interest and pride in the city’s designation,” Sykes said.

Athens is following suit when it comes to using the free publicity. The main goal is to bring more tourism to Athens, but the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation also has a stake in the benefits that come with such a prestigious award.

“People will acknowledge the value of historic preservation and the value of the work the Heritage Foundation promotes,” ACHF Executive Director Amy Kissane said.

The ACHF, CVB and Athens Welcome Center hope that all of these promotions will have an impact on tourism in Athens.

Long-distance travel has taken a hit in the economic slump, but many believe that summer will bring more day-trippers and weekenders from within Georgia and neighboring states.

“Athens is an ideal hub for quick and easy excursions to nearby areas that showcase the best of Georgia’s natural resources and attractions,” the Dozen Distinctive Destinations website reads.

Athenians outside of the historic preservation and hospitality realms also have a stake in tourism here. An Athens-Clarke County ordinance that went into effect Jan. 1, 1998 requires innkeepers to impose a seven percent bed tax on all guest rooms.

The Hotel-Motel Excise Tax and taxes like it throughout the state generated $1.5 billion of state revenue in 2008. The local bed tax contributes to public schools, roads and other municipal programs.

The more tourists there are, the better all of Athens fares.


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