By Joel Hall
According to the Clayton County Convention and Visitors Bureau, tourism generated nearly $1.2 billion in economic impact on Clayton County last year. On Tuesday, the bureau, and the Morrow Business and Tourism Association, honored many who excel in encouraging visitors to come to - and come back to - Clayton County.
About 40 elected officials and community leaders gathered at the National Archives at Atlanta, on Jonesboro Road in Morrow, to honor the winners of the first Tourism Golden Service Awards.
The winners were Lauren Singleton, events coordinator at the Morrow Tourist Center; Ted Key, volunteer docent and historian with Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County, Inc.; LaTonya Echols, front desk guest service agent at Comfort Suites in Stockbridge, and Jim McSweeney, regional administrator of the National Archives at Atlanta.
According to Pat Duncan, president and CEO of the convention and visitors bureau, the Tourism Golden Service Awards coincide with National Travel and Tourism Week, which is May 9 through 17, and National Tourism Day, which was Tuesday. He said tourism generates $20 billion annually for the state, and that it is important to recognize those who contribute locally.
"Travel and tourism is not easily measured because it is not a single industry," Duncan said. "Tourism spans nearly a dozen sectors ... lodging, recreation, retail, real estate, air and ground passenger transport, food and beverage, car rental, taxi services, [and] travel agents. When we thank our traveling friends for stopping by and spending hard-earned money with us, we also thank the businesses who supply visitors with things to see, to do, to eat, [and] to buy," he added.
"The Golden Service Awards program is one in which our tourism industry, our business partners, and our front-line team members are recognized for the outstanding jobs they perform," said Mike Twomey, president and executive director of the Morrow Business and Tourism Association.
"A sincere, simple comment made by a line-level associate can mean the difference in a 'yes' or 'no' in a purchase ... a return visit, or a never-to-return visit. The human touch will set our region apart from the others," Twomey said.
Singleton, who described herself as a "behind-the-scenes person," organizes many of the community events planned by the City of Morrow. In addition to those duties, she said she steers many travelers lost on Interstate 75 toward the right direction.
"I come from a family of teachers, so I have always liked to help people," Singleton said. "It's not fun being lost. Sometimes, you have to calm them down a little bit and let them know it is going to be OK.
"It's not every day that your peers recognize you for what you do," she added. "It's very nice to be recognized."
Echols, who is often to first person guests see when they check into Comfort Suites in Stockbridge, said she didn't expect to receive the award.
"I was surprised," Echols said. "I just try to make the guest happy and make them come back. At a lot of hotels, people don't have enough customer-service skills. You have to treat everybody how you want to be treated."
The four people chosen to receive the award were nominated earlier this month by their co-workers and members of the business community. State Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Ellenwood), one of several elected officials in attendance, said tourism and hospitality workers are important to the future of Clayton County.
"Any time you have an industry that can bring in over a billion [dollars] a year, with plenty of room to grow, that's an awesome thing," Glanton said. "As Clayton County moves forward in this re-imaging process, the way we brand ourselves will be very important."
"This is National Tourism Week and I think it's great to celebrate these people because they are the people who keep people spending the money," said Clayton County Commissioner Sonna Singleton. "How they treat the tourist determines how much money they spend in Clayton County, or if they come back."