By Walter L. Johnson II
While most of Albany’s economy continues to struggle, there’s one sector that’s holding its own: tourism.
Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Lisa Riddle and Welcome Center Manager Rashelle Beasley say things are looking up for their industry, despite the ongoing economic downturn.
“Tourism is doing really well here in Albany …” Riddle said. “ (And Georgia) Gov. (Nathan) Deal just released a report saying that the state’s tourism numbers are up 8 percent for 2010.
Additionally, Dougherty has actually has moved up among Georgia’s top tourist destinations in terms in counties from 17th to 16th, added Riddle.
“So, we’re doing really well. The economy did take a dive, but fortunately, we didn’t dive as deep as bigger cities dove,” Riddle said.
Beasley oversees a facility that welcomes tourists from all over the world, as well as the United States. Her main goal is to get those visitors sleeping in hotels and motels throughout Albany, through the “heads in beds” concept.
“Our job at the CVB is just that, to get ‘heads in beds,’” Beasley said, “and just recruit people to come in to town for meetings, and for visitors, families, whatever they need as far as a hotel room.”
Catering to business and leisure travelers alike
Wingate by Wyndham director of sales Jill Slappey is trying to get as many of those so-called “heads-in-beds” as possible at her hotel at Dawson Road just below the Dougherty-Lee County line.
“Our hotel is built around business travelers,” said Slappey. “It’s very focused on someone who is coming into Albany for the week, and they need a place to stay, and we have a continental breakfast with a hot item, so it’s going to be very convenient for them.
“As far as a yearly, what does your hotel average (in terms of visitors), it just all depends, as far as the economy as well, I think the hospitality industry, has kind of gone with the economy. But things seem to be picking up, and then of course, we’re hoping in the Albany area, that we’ll bring in many more tourists, and more groups, and motor coaches, and various sports teams.
Strong support system helps aids tourism
For Erin Whatley, being the catering sales manager of the Hilton Garden Inn/Great American Grill in downtown Albany is a job that she has always wanted to have.
“I feel like I have kind of like the dream job that a lot of people, according to what they say they like in a job, and get to coordinate a lot of events and parties.
“It’s a lot of fun, and I get to assist in creating marketing and advertising in our department, for the hotel itself, get to build relationships with individuals and businesses in the community,” Whatley said. “I also get to work with a really strong and supportive management team here, and great associates who are all just so trustworthy in delivering on our service that guests have come to expect, so it’s a really great job.”
Having a strong support system that includes the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce and the Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau also helps to not only build business at the Hilton Garden Inn, but also to aid tourism in general, added Whatley.
“I really love Albany, I was born and raised here,” she said. “I know a lot of great things about Albany, so it makes it really easy to sell the hotel, and our industry.
“We have a supportive Chamber of Commerce, and Convention and Visitors Bureau, so I really enjoy that aspect, too.”
Welcome Center visits up
With tourists from various nations, as well as U.S. states, coming to see what Albany has to offer, Beasley says that visits to the welcome center have risen significantly in recent months.
“We have anywhere between 2,000 to 3,000 visitors a month come through,” Beasley said. “Out-of-state, internationally, we have travelers from Japan, Canada, Germany, Australia, and many different areas.”
Additionally, Beasley explained that a significant percentage of visitors come from outside of Georgia, although there were no actual numbers as of this year.
“A good third of our visitors are from out-of-state, and international travelers,” she said.
International festival merges with Southwest Georgia River Jam
The next big event planned by the CVB comes on October 1, when the International Festival will merge with the Southwest Georgia River Jam to become the Flint Fest. The aim behind the consolidation of both events is to attract more visitors to downtown Albany, as well as draw more interest from local residents.
“(We want) to draw more people to downtown Albany, to get people to come here, and visit the city, and also, to bring out the people who live in town, to come downtown, and see what all it has to offer.”
Merging both events also has an added benefit, Beasley added.
“Together, we are much better than separate,” said Beasley of the newly created Flint Fest: An International and Music Festival.
ON THE WEB:
• Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau: visitalbanyga.com
• Hilton Garden Inn Albany: www.albany.hgi.com
• Wingate by Wyndham Albany: www.WingateHotels.com/Albany