Tourism industry working to increase occupancy

By Justin Boron

The Clayton County tourism industry must increase the occupancy rates of its lodging facilities by 4 percent and better stratify its marketing efforts between special events during the year to broaden its success in selling the county as the "Legendary Land of Gone With the Wind," said an industry analyst Thursday morning in Forest Park.

At the Georgia Grown Center of State Farmer's Market, Berkeley W. Young, a vice president for Randall Travel Marketing with 17 years of experience in lodging and tourism, gave an expansive look into the county's tourism progress during the last six years.

Local officials and business owners listened as Young gave his assessment of everything from lodging, to shopping, to feature attractions like Jonesboro's Stately Oaks Plantation. The evaluation will likely serve as a guide for local tourism's future growth.

Extending promotional campaigns beyond events like the two races at the Atlanta Motor Speedway is a crucial step toward filling the rooms up yearround, he said.

"Three hundred and sixty-five days a year, that's what you're here to market," Young said.

Another step toward solidifying hotel and motel success would be for the convention and visitors bureau to establish a tighter relationship with the business' managers and direct them with data that defines their strong sources of business, he said.

In a breakdown of the county's lodging business, Young said more than 34 percent of the room sales comes from corporate business or college related conventions or meetings.

Part owner of the Country Inn Suites in Morrow, Sam Patel, 30, says he uses this type of information he receives from tourism officials to cater to specific crowds that come at particular times of the year.

While the industry report criticizes things like the upkeep of the Southlake Mall and the lack of full-service, high end lodging facilities, it does praise tourism officials for raising the county's level of exposure.

In media like the county's visitor guide, a survey showed that 7 percent more of the respondents said the guide helped them decide whether or not to visit than did six years ago.

Young also called the use of "Gone with the Wind" to define the county a gold mine of opportunity.

Plastering the title of Margaret Mitchell's world renown novel across brochures and advertisements, he said effectively targets tourists looking to see part of "the real South."

Young also made the following reccomendations for the area's cities:

éJonesboro- Develop village atmosphere.

éMorrow- Focus on Gateway Village and federal archives.

éForest Park- Focus on State Farmer's Market.

éRiverdale- Utilize pass-through business on way to Atlanta.

éRex Village- Preserve and Animate historic area.

éLovejoy- Reel in suburban growth.