Tourism brings big dollars to Fannin County

Community, Fannin County Chamber, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – There is no denying that our area is a hot spot for tourists and the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce gave a 2018 update letting citizens know just how much money our thriving tourist industry is bringing to our area.

Last year alone, $39 million was collected in local lodging tax by both the City of Blue Ridge and Fannin County.

“That’s just the ones who pay the tax,” Jan Hackett, President of Fannin County Chamber of Commerce spoke of the significance of these numbers, “so anyone out there who is an Airbnb or a VRBO who is not paying the tax is not in that number.”

In recent years Georgia Tech teamed up with the Chamber of Commerce to do a study on our economic impact numbers. According to Hackett the purpose of this study was to determine the amount of dollars spent in our local economy based on the lodging taxes collected.

Georgia Tech was able to produce an equation that they felt would portray an accurate number based on percentages of sales in direct comparison with lodging taxes.

“Based on their percentages the amount of money that visitors spent directly was $170.5 million dollars,” Hackett said explaining the findings for calendar year 2018 and added that this number is based on overnight visitors alone and does not account for day trippers and our area’s population of second home owners.

According to these numbers and based on SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) collections last year, overnight visitors made up roughly a third of all retail sales in the county. SPLOST reported a record breaking $555 million is sales last year for Fannin County.

Hackett broke down the numbers into a daily average. On average per day lodging brings in $100,795 and visitors spend roughly $484,375. This equates to $39,347 of taxes collected locally.

While our county can become crowded due to the visitors, there is a definite positive impact these visitors bring with them. Roughly one-third of the jobs in Fannin County (excluding governmental) are supported by the tourist industry, and all the extra revenue saves residents approximately $865 in taxation per household.

Hackett pointed out that in 2001: “At that point in time we had less in retail sales than any county in the four around us.” These counties include Fannin, Glimer, Pickens, and Union.

Fast forward to recent years and Fannin County is now leading the way in retail sales and economic growth. A comparison shows that in 2001 retail sales were approximately $150 million and in 2018 retail sales were $555,697,658.

With the lodging tax now being split 50/50 between the chamber and the county, Hackett reported that the decrease from the 70 percent that the chamber previously received has not posed any negative effect on the ability to market our area.

Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton explains where the extra revenue the county is now getting from the split in lodging tax is being spent, “When we adjusted this ratio between the board of commissioners and the chamber, our intent was to take half of that increase and put it into safety.”

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson is credited with the idea of investing the funds into public safety, and had pointed out in previous meetings that his reasoning is simply with more people visiting and more events being held in our area there becomes an increased demand for emergency services to be provided.

Up next for the Chamber of Commerce is to continue to promote growth and visitation in our area. Hackett said of moving forward, “Our mission is only to help make Fannin County a better place to live, work and play.”

The chamber has recently focused efforts into making the Copper Basin area a desirable place to visit and has teamed up with the University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute of Government Study to produce an in depth study of McCaysville, Copperhill, and Ducktown.

“The Carl Vinson Institute is doing a kind of strategic planning process for McCaysville, Copperhill, and Ducktown….the Copper Basin,” Hackett said of the partnership and added that she is expecting the study to be complete by the end of February.

The study and planning will work to make the Copper Basin area a more appealing place to work, live and visit. Its focus is to re-brand the area. Under the name the Copper Basin Renaissance, the partnership with UGA is focusing its campaign on the slogan “Copper Basin. Too Great for One State”.

Hackett said of the chamber’s focus, “As Blue Ridge has gotten more crowded, it only makes since to try to do more in McCaysville and Copper Hill and the Basin, so that when visitors are here we’ll have them spread out in the county.”

The Fannin County Chamber of Commerce debuted a new website that went live in March of last year. 617,905 users visited the site and of those users 82 percent were new.

The new design of the website landed the chamber a prestigious Silver Adrian Award from the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International.

“To give you an idea of what an honor that is, the Jackson Hole Wyoming website also won a silver,” Hackett said of the accomplishment.

The Fannin County Chamber of Commerce plans to continue efforts in 2019 to once again bring in record numbers to our area and help define Fannin County as a resilient place to visit or to make home.

Featured Image: A small sample of the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce new award winning website.

 

 

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Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

New bridge to be built on the busiest stretch of Aska Road- Are families now at risk?

Community, News

Shallowford Bridge noted for its’ historical significance in Fannin County is eligible to be recognized in The National Registry of Historic Places. Its current fate is at the center of a growing divide between GDOT, businesses, and residents on Aska and Shallowford Bridge roads.

Imagine peak tourist season, bridge construction, road changes, businesses and local residents all converging around Shallowford Bridge and Aska Roads. Those who live in this area can not imagine how this became the pending scenerio. A new bridge is supported, it is the location causing concern for current safety and for the area as it continues to grow in the future.

Earlier this month, GDOT held a Public Open House in Blue Ridge to explain their plans for the replacement of Shallowford Bridge. Concerned citizens were encouraged to ask questions and complete a questionnaire.

Representatives from Michael Baker International, a provider of engineering and consulting services were on hand to offer reasons why this project is imperative. GDOT must repair, replace, or move the current bridge. The bridge does not meet engineering criteria and has many issues, mainly steel related. It is not in safety compliance with federal regulations regarding bridge standards. Considering all available information, it is urgent to address the bridge issues now.

GDOT District Engineer (Cartersville) Grant Waldrop said Shallowford Bridge project will start about September 2020. It is expected to be completed in a 12-month time period.

Waldrop affirmed. “Fannin County has requested we leave the old bridge up. The existing bridge will be open during construction so there won’t be any detours which are about 10 miles down the road.”

While he added residences and businesses along Aska Road and Shallowford Bridge Road will be minimally affected, the residents and business owners expressed a much different opinion.

During the Open House, Kimberly and Charlie Wolfe, owners of Iron Bridge General Store and Cafe, located directly across from the current Shallowford Bridge and expected construction area, voiced their fears of how damaging GDOT’s current plan is for the safety of locals, tourists, and their business. Current plans could also destroy the businesses in the construction area having limited to no customer access for 12 months.

A highly congested area in the summer, and consistently busy in the offseason, they are concerned what it means in regard to safety for everyone. In addition to increased traffic, designated parking spaces, vehicles parked on both sides of Aska Road is increased foot traffic which often includes young children excitedly dashing about. The bridge is set to intersect with Aska Road in the middle of this busy public area.

Plans include a new trussed, concrete bridge to be constructed with two nine-foot lanes and a 10-foot walking path across the Benton-McKaye Trail relocation.

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Less school for more economy?

News

North Georgia – According to a recent article by the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC), a senate committee has recommended longer summers for Georgia Students.

Instead of quoting test scores, educators, or studies about student learning, the committee suggested a school year starting the first Monday of September, and ending around June 1.

The basis for this suggestion? Economic analysis.

According to the AJC’s article, the committee was devoid of teachers, school leaders, or PTA representatives. Their suggestion bypassed academics and said that the longer summer, roughly three months, would help tourism grow and increase summer workforce.

Taking a local response from Gilmer County Charter Schools System Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs and Fannin County School System Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney, the consensus seems to be that these systems are appalled at the thought of economic interests waylaying the education system in favor on money.

Dr. Downs told FYN that shortening the year would not only decrease the breaks that the local school system has in place for students, but would make testing in the first semester almost impossible. She noted an immense testing impact if students were to go through first semester and Christmas, only to then come back in January for end of course testing.

A sentiment that was separately echoed by Dr. Gwatney who also noted how much work these school systems put into their calendars, over 6 months of effort and staff input are taken by each of these two school systems before a final handful of calendars are presented for community input in the Board of Education. Finally, the Board approves a final Calendar in the spring for the coming school year.

Additionally, Dr. Gwatney pointed out how far the effect of these calendars reach as he also brought in fellow administrators to speak on the issue.

Fannin County Schools Deputy Superintendent Betsy Hyde(heading up the District’s Charter), Fannin County Nutrition Director Candace Sisson (also the Calendar Committee Coordinator), and Fannin County Assistant Superintendent Robert Ensley (Administration and Personnel) all agreed that stepping into the local schools in such a way without any representation from schools on the committee was not the way the state should be looking at the issue. From the time spent working on the calendar to allowing each individual county to cater to their student’s and county’s needs, these representatives of Fannin County exerted the necessity of individualized calendars.

Downs also noted this importance in Gilmer County as she noted that each school presents its own calendar that is put together by teachers and administrators and then put out for citizen input. Noting the influence of educators of the process, Downs said she was against the thought of a committee placing importance of economy over education.

While both these counties gain a lot from the tourism industry, they annually balance their own festivals, events, and economies against the education calendar. Local people provide local input from local expertise as they continually deal with this problem.

Though the recommendation is non-binding, it leaves citizens asking the question of how much control the state should have and exert over local governments. Though not directly related, they still recall the Governors “Opportunity School Districts” campaign in recent years. A campaign shot down at the polls. If moved forward and put in place, regulations on the school year may shift discussions from the economic benefit to the state as a whole and focus solely on the overreach of State Government into local communities.

According to the AJC, the committee includes chair and state Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, Sen. Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, Sen. John Wilkinson, R-Toccoa, Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, Deputy Commissioner of Tourism for the Department of Economic Development Kevin Langston, Georgia Chamber of Commerce designee Michael Owens, Director of the Georgia Travel Association Kelsey Moore, Executive Director of the Georgia Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus Jay Markwalter, former state Director of Community Affairs Camila Knowles, State Board of Education member Scott Johnson and Grier Todd, chief operating officer at Lake Lanier Islands Resort.

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Fannin Commissioners plan to cut Fannin Chamber Budget – Will they kill the golden goose?

Opinion

Fannin county Board of Commissioners made a decision to reduce the percentage of hotel/motel tax which was allocated for the Fannin County Chamber.  The reduction which will begin in 2018 will change the percentage the Chamber receives to 60% from 70%.  The plan now is for another reduction which will be made again in 2019 making it a 50% / 50% split.  During discussion Fannin County Post Commissioner Earl Johnson said he would like the money to be used for specific earmarked projects.

The Fannin Chamber has been extremely effective in tourism marketing and local merchants and taxpayers have enjoyed the benefits.  In this ever changing climate of small towns and communities vying for the tourists’ dollars we couldn’t help but wonder how will this change impact our area.  Currently Blue Ridge/Fannin County has numerous and varied methods of drawing the crowds including digital marketing, billboards, magazines, and more.

Listening to some people voice opinions on this matter in the past several months, the echoing sentiment seems to be how successful our town of Blue Ridge/Fannin has been in attracting visitors.  Our Fannin Chamber has been very instrumental and successful with putting Blue Ridge/Fannin on the map and maybe some do not realize how this happened.  Our fear and the fear of many, is the reduction in resources to our Chamber will have an impact which may not be easy to reverse.

It may seem to the current Board of Commissioners a good idea to make this reduction, thus giving them what may be considered “newfound funds” but what will be the results of this change in the long run.  It’s not too hard to realize 40% of 1 million is $50,000 less than 30% of 1.5 million, of course these are estimates but the timing seems likely for the drop in tourism to coincide with the marketing decrease which will be a forced change on our local chamber.  Not only does Fannin/Blue Ridge compete with other small towns but add the newly opened Casino and the marketing package it has put in place, along with other areas who aspire to draw similar crowds, could really put our tourism numbers at risk.

The sad news for everyone however may be the effects which could be felt for years to come.  Hopefully the Fannin County Board of Commissioners may review and research the possible outcome and perhaps even reconsider.   FYN did our own research and spoke to some people who have decades of research on tourism.  One of our contacts agreed to let us share his findings on the effects of advertising to small towns.

FYN decided to reach out to Andrew Levine, contributor to Forbes Magazine,  who wrote this article & agreed FYN could have permission to share :

Why Tourism Advertising Is More Powerful Than You Think

Is there a halo effect generated by tourism advertising?

Yes, we can survey consumers and directly see how a state or city’s advertising campaign works in influencing perceptions of a destination’s tourism product and ultimately in motivating travel.  But are there other benefits in boosting the community’s overall image with the same audience?

North Dakota is a case in point.  For the past decade, the state’s “Legendary” campaign has been a successful branding statement connecting the state to potential travelers in an emotional and authentic manner.  The most recent ROI research shows that North Dakota’s U.S. campaign generated over $100 in visitor spending for every dollar spent on advertising.

ND New

North Dakota’s “Legendary” advertising campaign kicked-off in 2005.

But here’s where it gets even more interesting.  Are the same viewers more positive to North Dakota as:

  • A place to live? Yes, up 41%.
  • A place to start a career? Yes, up 100%.
  • A place to start a business? Yes, up 75%.
  • A place to attend college? Yes, up 87%.
  • A place to purchase a second home? Yes, up 113%
  • A place to retire? Yes, up 75%.

Graph

Tourism advertising helped boost the state’s image in unexpected ways.

Longwoods asked the same six questions in assessing the impact of advertising campaigns for a number of other states, including North Carolina, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The findings couldn’t have been more consistent.  In each and every case, effective tourism advertising had the same impact, improving consumer perceptions of each state in accidental yet positive ways.  And while tourism marketing has been shown to generate significant economic impact by driving visitation, these results demonstrate the potential long-term benefits for broader economic development.

Edward Thorndike, an early educational psychologist, first coined the term “the halo effect” in a 1920 article titled “A Constant Error in Psychological Ratings.”  Thorndike asked two commanding officers to evaluate their soldiers in terms of physical qualities (neatness, voice, physique, bearing, and energy) and personal qualities (including dependability, loyalty, responsibility, selflessness, and cooperation). He found that if an officer liked one aspect of the soldier, he tended to have a positive predisposition toward everything about him.

Nearly one hundred years later, the same can now be said of tourism advertising.  We’ve known for a long time that effective tourism advertising campaigns build positive feelings toward a travel experience and inspire travel.  But thanks to Bill Siegel and the Longwoods team, we now know that the same campaigns have other benefits that elevate impressions of a destination in an unintended yet positive manner.  Bill Siegel and his firm Longwoods International have been tracking the performance of the advertising campaigns of countries, states and cities for over 25 years.

Mr. Andrew Levine’s bio:  He’s passionate about places and how communities work to attract investment, tourists and talent. For 20+ years, he’s served as President/Chief Creative Officer of Development Counsellors International (or DCI for short). DCI is the leader in marketing places having served over 450 cities, states, regions and countries. It is his belief that place marketing is fundamentally different from consumer marketing (but both practices can learn from each other). A goal in his writing and teaching is to simplify concepts and avoid buzzwords. If you have a high school education, you won’t need a dictionary for anything he’s written.

Fannin County Board of Commissioners Workshop February 23rd 2017

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Wrangling Begins Over Lodging Tax Revenues

News

After the Fannin County Board of Commissioners heard the first public hearing on the proposed County Park Ordinance this week and mulled over a few other minor items, the focus of the meeting moved once again to the lodging tax debate. Last month, commissioners approved an increase in the lodging tax, from three percent to five percent. That move means that January 1st, one percent of the increase will automatically go to the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce, leaving one percent in tax revenue available to promote tourism. Since the announcement of the increase, two groups have dominated the debate, each group advocating the money go to its cause. These two groups were well represented this week’s meeting.
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