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Study: Tourism down in 2009; uptick expected
Darren Beckman swims in Lake Lanier recently. - photo by Autumn McBride

In 2009, people visited Cumming and Forsyth County less and stayed home more, according to a state analysis.

Tourism in the county was down overall last year with visitor expenditures dropping by 9 percent since 2008, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development tourism division’s statewide economic impact analysis.

But 2010 has been a promising year, said James McCoy, president and CEO of the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s an indicator of the recession and that overall we’re just not spending that kind of money anymore,” he said. “I don’t know that it will be up to where we had been in 2008, 2007 and 2006, but I do think that we will see these numbers heading back in the right direction.”

The analysis stated that visitors to Forsyth spent about $118.11 million in 2009, as compared to $127.99 million in 2008. Local taxes paid by these visitors in 2009 dropped to $3.65 million from $3.87 million in 2008.

One key indicator that gives an idea of how the county’s tourism is faring month to month is hotel stays.

In 2009, McCoy said there were fewer guests at the county’s hotels, but already 2010 has seen a modest increase, he said. Neighboring Alpharetta has noticed the same trend.

Janet Rodgers, president and CEO of the Alpharetta Convention & Visitors Bureau, said hotel occupancy has been up “month to month for the past 12 months.”

Though she represents Alpharetta, Rodgers has a vested interest in all communities along Ga. 400 through Hospitality Highway, a destination marketing organization she helped create to lure tourists to the seven cities and surrounding counties along the state highway.

Each year, representatives from each city meet to discuss an annual project to bring tourists to Ga. 400.

This year’s project, iStop, offers highlights from a tourist’s perspective of each city: Alpharetta, Buckhead, Cumming, Dahlonega, Dawsonville, Roswell and Sandy Springs.

The Cumming/Forsyth County video is next up for the Hospitality Highway Web site.

“We have actually put a lot of information about the different communities on our Web site,” Rodgers said. “It’s really taking it like a family visiting a destination and a video showing their itinerary and their experience. It’s so someone can really experience what they did through their eyes and their experience.”

McCoy describes the video as a “day in the life” of a local tourist.

“The idea was to allow people that have not been here a chance to really take a look at what’s available [in] those communities so they can make a well-informed decision about coming,” McCoy said.

Among Forsyth’s biggest draws are its regional and national sports competitions, McCoy said.

“It’s been part of the chamber’s development strategy for the last four, really five, years and we know that’s a very attractive part of Forsyth,” he said.

He also noted the county’s recreational offerings continue to “fit nicely into that strategy of amateur sporting events.”

“The aquatic center, the addition of Fowler Park, the expansion at Central Park, all of the new parks and recreation facilities that are coming online — all of that will help us be much better at expanding our offerings a great deal,” he said.

The recent 16th annual Cumming Country Fair & Festival earlier this month saw its second highest turnout in history, which was also a good indication that things are on the mend, McCoy said.

“It’s a great sign that people are interested in going and spending money again and are having a great deal more confidence,” he said.