Photo by Curt Yeomans
Clayton County tourism, economic development and community development officials pose with an enlarged check designed to represent the more than $1 billion economic impact tourism had on the county in 2011.
Tourists who visited Stately Oaks Plantation, the Road to Tara Museum or Spivey Hall in 2011, or who just passed through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport left a very big impression on Clayton County, local tourism officials announced Wednesday evening.
That impression was left by tourists buying items at stores, eating at restaurants and sleeping in local hotels. The burden of treating those visitors well, and making sure they enjoyed their stay was met by 30,200 employees in various tourism-related industries.
That amounted to a $1.04 billion economic impact on the county, according to Clayton County tourism officials.
“This is a great place, and there are great things happening here, and we just have to put our nose to the grindstone and make sure that everybody knows that,” said Clayton County Tourism Authority Board Chairperson Linda Summerlin.
The tourism economic impact figures were released by the Clayton County Tourism Authority board, and the Clayton County Convention and Visitors Bureau this week, as part of their observance of National Travel and Tourism Week.
The figures come from data that the Clayton County Tourism Authority Board obtained from the U.S. Travel Association and the Georgia Department of Economic Development, according to Summerlin.
In addition to a total economic impact of more than $1 billion, tourists also spent $31.73 million in local sales taxes, and an additional $122.96 million in state sales taxes, according to the numbers provided by county tourism officials on Wednesday. The total number of bus tours taken in the county also increased by 125 percent, with the total number of passengers on each bus increasing by 68 percent.
The total number of tour buses carrying only international tourists increased by 1,075 percent, according to the local tourism data.
The numbers are eye-catching because of their size, but Summerlin said the county can thank one famous author named Margaret Mitchell for writing “Gone With the Wind,” which the county has been able to build much of its tourism industry around. She explained that many people, particularly visitors from foreign countries, come to Jonesboro in search of Scarlett O’Hara, Rhett Butler, and the Tara plantation because of that book.
“Our hook here has been historical tourism,” Summerlin said. “We are blessed that Margaret Mitchell came to Clayton County, to visit her maternal grandparents home. Had she not chosen that, I’m not sure where our place in history in place would be, but probably not where we are now ...
“We have developed through the years, and with lots of partnerships, to create the Road to Tara museum ... With that, you cannot imagine how many tour buses are in, and out of this city.”
The economic impact felt by tourism is particularly significant because it is money that is spent by visitors who do not asking the county to spend much money on them in return. Their children are not enrolled in Clayton County schools, for example, so the school district does not have to spend money to educate their young ones.
“This is a time when we have people from outside the community, whether they are casual day tourists, or long-term tourists from outside the state and the region,” said Clayton County Economic Development Director Grant Wainscott. “These are people coming in, and spending money on gas, on food, on hotels, on the retail establishments.
“They are not bringing children into our school system. They are not asking for police and fire protection. They are bringing in money, experiencing something, and hopefully going home and sharing their experience with their neighbors, their colleagues, and their family members.”