National Museum of Commercial Aviation tour guide Richard Grigg (right) shows Lamplight Tours of Atlanta Owner Lee Klaer around the museum, on Nov. 18. Group tours in the county are up 125 percent in the last year due to efforts to introduce tour operators to local attractions.
Before Scarlett O’Hara’s local legacy can be shown off for tour participants, someone has to pitch it to the people who can bring those visitors to the county.
Those people would be officials from the Clayton County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. They have been spending the last few years pitching the county’s tourist destinations, such as Stately Oaks Plantation, the National Archives at Atlanta and Clayton County International Park, to metro-Atlanta tour operators.
The operators are taken on tours of these sites, and the goal, officials said, is to convince them to bring church groups, student groups, reunions and convention attendees to these sites in the future.
“We host about a dozen [tour operators] a year,” said Beth Bailey, the visitor’s bureau’s vice president of sales and promotions. “Some are looking for new places to take visitors. Some are looking specifically for ‘Gone With the Wind’-related locations. Sometimes, we partner with other counties, or cities to pitch ourselves as a package to tour operators.”
Clayton County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau officials boast that the number of group motor-coach tours that have been booked by their sales staff members has taken off, with a 125-percent increase in tours seen in the last year.
While county tourism and economic development officials were not able to provide specific figures for how much of an economic impact is generated just from these tour groups, they did say tourism, in general, is big business for the county.
Tourism products and services had an economic impact of $956.45 million on the county, in 2010, according to Clayton County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau Spokesperson Rebekah Cline. She added that it takes time for tours to be set up, after tour operators visit the county, so the impact now being seen from tour groups came after a few years of planning.
“We introduce them to these sites, and then they have to repackage these destinations and pitch them to the clients,” she said. “So, we may not see our efforts come to fruition for about 18 months. The increase we’re seeing now is the result of work that we did in 2009, and 2010, to attract these tour operators to our county.”
Bailey said virtually every tour operator that is brought in to visit a site in the county ends up adding that site to his or her list of offerings. “If they are at the point where they are here, taking what we call ‘familiarization tours,’ then they are pretty serious about bringing tours here,” she explained.
Clayton County Economic Development Director Grant Wainscott said Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport plays a significant role in the importance of tourism on the local economy. The airport is located in the northwest corner of the county, and it is regularly dubbed the “World’s Busiest Airport.”
Wainscott explained that the convention and visitor’s bureau’s efforts to introduce tour operators to sites in the county are important, because of the large number of people who pass through the area, via the airport.
“People may choose to stay an extra night [in the area], and check out some of our local attractions,” he said.
Wainscott, who also runs the National Museum of Commercial Aviation, in Forest Park, recently played host to one of these tour operators. Convention and Visitor’s Bureau officials brought Lamplight Tours of Atlanta Owner Lee Klaer to the museum on Nov. 18.
“We wanted to be able to get a reaction to what we had, and to see if they felt we were ready to host large group tours,” Wainscott said. “According to their [Klaer’s and other Lamplight officials’] feedback, we are ready.”
Klaer, in a written statement, praised the museum for its educational and nostalgic opportunities, adding that the visitor’s bureau-arranged visit had opened his eyes to its existence.
“Prior to my visit to the National Museum of Commercial Aviation, I was not aware anything like this existed in such close proximity to the Atlanta area,” Klaer said. “The museum provides an opportunity for an educational experience for student groups and a walk down memory lane for our leisure travelers,” he added.
Pitching the local sites that extend beyond the traditional image of Scarlett, on a hill overlooking her family’s Tara plantation, will be key to further success in bringing more group tours to Clayton County, according to Wainscott.
“We are certainly blessed to have the Civil War history, and several historic sites, to bring visitor’s to the county,” he said. “It’s important, also, to have other offerings — other than the Civil War history — to provide for people who are looking for something to do while they are in the area ... There are so many great assets in the county that we can showcase to tour operators.”