Local, state tourism heads report healing economy

Published 10:30 am Tuesday, September 28, 2021

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LaGrange’s economy took a series of hits the last two years due to the pandemic, but three tourism leaders are reporting a strong recovery both locally and state-wide as tourism continues to rebound.

Kathy Tilley, executive director of Visit LaGrange; Nija Torrence, the regional tourism marketing manager of Explore Georgia; and Carleton Wood, the executive director of Hills and Dales Estate, shared some of the latest data supporting their assessments during the State of the Community Luncheon held Monday.

“[Tourism] is not just about [bringing in] visitors,” Tilley said. “It improves the quality of life of the residents who live here.”

Outdoor venues particularly helped Georgia through the initial start of the pandemic, Torrence said, as people were looking for safe, outdoor places to visit.

“Visitor volume has been pretty good,” Torrence said. “In 2019, Georgia was the number seven state for domestic overnight trips, but in 2020 we rose up to number five since [there was] a lot of pent-up demand.”

One way Visit LaGrange measures success is through the hotel occupancy rate in the area, Tilley said. In August 2018, LaGrange was at 58.2 % occupancy, with a slight dip in 2019 with 56.7%. However, in August 2021, hotel occupancy was at 66.7%.

Popular destinations both in and outside the county help drive higher occupancy rates, Tilley said. West Point Lake has been a sought-after destination in recent years.

Jay Jamison, Operations manager of the West Point Lake Project, noted that the lake had 2.1 million visitors to its parks in the last year and has accumulated $1.3 million in fees from its campgrounds.

Hills and Dales Estate, which had to close partially in 2020, reported an increase in visitors this past year as well as the use of its grounds for events such as photography shoots.

“We’re not quite back where we were, but we’re certainly trending up,” Wood said.

Looking into 2022, tourism departments are looking into price increases in visitor venues and even hotel and motel prices due to a rise in demand for them. Increased promotion as well as a major goal for tourism departments, Wood noted.

“It’s easy to overlook smaller things like sports games bringing in teams,” Wood said.

“Other things, like the Cycling Classic the Downtown Authority held, things like that can grow and become tourism pieces.”