Tourism was responsible for spreading more than $149 million across Rome and Floyd County in 2016. The latest U.S. Travel Association data was released last week and shows an increase of 4.5 percent compared to 2015.
The data, funneled to the Greater Rome Convention and Visitors Bureau through the Georgia Department of Economic Development, also shows tourism generated more than $4.38 million in local tax revenue, up 3.4 percent from the previous year. Floyd County Manager Jamie McCord said that includes sales tax as well as hotel/motel tax revenues.
The data is based on U.S. residents traveling in Georgia including residents of Georgia and out-of-state visitors traveling away from home overnight, staying in a hotel or motel or on day or overnight trips, and to places 50 miles or more away — one-way, from home.
The study reported U.S. domestic travel, including leisure and business travel, increased by 1.3 percent in 2016.
Payrolls that can be linked to the tourism, hotels, motels, restaurants and specific tourist sites pumped more than $29.1 million.
Domestic and international travelers spent a total of $28.5 billion in Georgia during 2016, an increase of 3.4 percent from 2015. Domestic traveler spending increased 4.2 percent to $25.6 billion, mostly driven by the foodservice sector and lodging sector. International travelers’ expenditures were actually down 3.6 percent to $2.9 billion.
“We have continued to be forward thinking in putting together product development that will create the economics and drive the engine that pushed new money into our town,” said Greater Rome Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Lisa Smith. “That’s one reason you see so many hotels, that’s why you see restaurants, you see a big tennis center, you see ball fields, and you see the Braves. It is the life blood of Rome and Floyd County to bring this new money.”
Floyd County ranked 26th among the 159 Georgia counties in terms of tourism-related expenditures in 2016. That put the community fifth in what is known as the Historic High Country section of the state, which includes Bartow, Carroll, Catoosa, Chattooga, Cherokee, Dade, Fannin, Floyd, Gilmer, Gordon, Haralson, Murray, Paulding, Pickens, Polk Walker and Whitfield counties.
Cherokee County ranked number 11 with $323.1 million in tourist expenditures, Bartow was 21st with $193.8 million, Whitfield checked in 22nd with $185.6 million and Carroll ranked one notch ahead of Floyd County at number 25 with $156.8 million. Dade County had the lowest volume of tourism expenditures in the region at $17.3 million.
Smith said one of the most challenging aspects of the tourism industry involves the intense competition. “You’ve got to stay ahead of your competition, in every neighboring county and in every neighboring state,” Smith said. “The renovation because of SPLOST that happened at the Forum River Center has created a real buzz in the meeting community to look at Rome again.”
Thomas Kislat, a marketing specialist with Safari Hospitality and the CVB, said one of the challenges is the industry trend to one-stop convention facilities. “We can’t compete with hard-core meeting businesses that want to get off a plane and into the convention at an attached hotel, meet there for two or three days and get out again,” Kislat said. “We have to be unique enough for people to drive up here. Obviously we put a lot of emphasis on the great outdoors, the walking trails, the great downtown area, Broad Street, and soon-to-be four hotels downtown. That pays off.”
The hotel properties Kislat referred to are the Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham, the Hampton Inn & Suites, the Days Inn and the Courtyard by Marriott. “Meeting planners want a one-stop shop and you try to do that as much as you can, and we’re working on it,” Kislat said.
The Forum River Center has several large groups coming o Rome during the final quarter of 2017, including the Georgia Onsite Wastewater Association in October, the Southeastern Wood Producers Association in November and the Branson Tractor dealers in December. “We’ve got a lot of bids we’re entertaining for other conventions,” said Forum Manager Brent Poplin.
Smith cautioned against expectations of immediate results at the renovated Forum River Center. “It is not immediate because it’s a bidding process,” Smith said. “Thomas Kislat, who is on staff at the CVB and Safari — who is managing the Forum — is focusing his efforts to meet every single meeting planner he can possibly meet, network with associations and get meetings on the books and tons of site visits
Tourism expenditures in Floyd County have gone up 36.1 percent from $110.1 million in 2010. The number of jobs linked to tourism is up from 1,146 in 2010 to 1,349 in 2016; an increase of 17.7 percent, and local taxes generated by tourism is up from $3.27 million in 2010 to $4.38 million last year, an increase of 33.9 percent.
The U.S.T.I. report does not break all of its data into county-by-county data sets, but does list the average occupancy rate for hotels across the Historic High Country as 57.6 percent in 2016, and the average daily room rate as $77.