Submitted by the Rotary Club of Dalton
Tourism is one of the nation’s largest industries, worth more than $800 billion in 2011. It is often overlooked as a positive economic impact on our own community.
Figures for 2010 from the Georgia Department of Economic Development report that Whitfield County had $136.91 million in direct tourist spending and more than $4 million in local tax revenue. The city and county received more than $1 million in lodging taxes alone. There are 15 local hotels and hundreds of restaurants and many retail and fuel businesses that benefit from visitors to our area.
Brett Huske, executive director of the Dalton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), has been here three years and during that time of recession, the lodging taxes have increased more than 65 percent. So what has created that growth and what can we do to sustain and grow that portion of our economy?
The first major category of that growth has come from the sports and meetings groups, such as the adult and youth softball tournaments where 200 teams left us with a $2 million impact, and the recent American Legion convention of 1,200 attendees creating a $600,000 impact. Our local sports venues, Heritage Point Park, county fields and schools are a positive asset to entice these tournaments.
The second category is the individual visitor who comes on the way to another destination, or for business, family or friends visits, or to visit our Civil War assets. Although harder to quantify, this leisure market is an important part of our focus.
When discussing how we can attract more tourism business, Huske spoke about the “three legs of the tourism stool.”
1. The meetings market of conventions, meetings, concerts, consumer shows and weddings that create about $3 million in economic impact. The competition is Macon, Augusta, Athens and St. Simons, who have all updated their amenities. Dalton needs a renovated convention center with an attached hotel to compete, otherwise this business will wane. Meeting planners do not book the trade center because it is outdated in appearance and technology and it does not have an attached hotel. It needs an overhaul and a hotel to be competitive.
2. The group sports market where the CVB works with the Dalton and Whitfield County parks and recreation departments to attract youth, adult and senior tournaments. The new competition is the Emerson complex upcoming that will drain some of our business. To compete, our baseball and softball, basketball, soccer and tennis facilities need to continue to be updated with more and more amenities. This market is also attuned to continuing positive relationships so the CVB continues to service these groups positively.
3. The leisure market is not the strongest leg of tourism, although Civil War assets are a draw and our position off I-75 and family events bring numbers of visitors. There is not a destination asset for which someone would plan a vacation. Huske said that is what we need.
So, to increase tourism here those figures tell us that we need an updated convention center with attached hotel and a destination amenity. To determine whether those things are feasible for Dalton in our future economy there is a current feasibility study to determine Dalton’s direction.
What would bring all of these elements together? A large, significant, cutting-edge waterpark that has been discussed during the last two years is currently in the study process. A waterpark of the best quality would generate thousands of new visitors, especially since there is not one between lower Florida and Sevierville, Tenn. The facility, funded by private investment, must be committed to adding features every year or two and might be partially indoors to extend the season. This waterpark would support and enhance the meetings market and the sports market, particularly youth, and would extend hotel stays for visitors who come here for any other reason. It would provide a greater reason for marketing with Chattanooga.
The feasibility study will be completed in a few weeks and will offer heavily-researched reasons for or against all of these elements. It will give us information on the direction the trade center needs to go, including information for a hotel developer; will tell us whether a privately-funded water park is feasible; and will provide guidance for next steps to increase tourism dollars for the Dalton area.