As the demands of attracting convention business become more and more competitive between potential sites, the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau (SCVB) is trying to meet these new demands on a greatly reduced budget.
SCVB executive director Jaime Riggs said the bureau has had its budget cut several times over the last six years. The bureau receives a percentage of the hotel/motel tax that is being collected locally on room rentals.
"We now receive 69 percent of those tax revenues," Riggs said. "In 2002, our portion of that tax was reduced from 95 to 80 percent. As our budget continues to be cut, the cost of attracting conventions and travel groups has increased."
Riggs said with the addition of the Holiday Inn and Springhill Suites properties, Statesboro now has over 1100 rooms available for conventions putting Statesboro in the running for far more convention business than it had been able to solicit in the past.
"These new rooms coming on line have drastically changed what we can bid for," Riggs said. "We can compete with Savannah now and other larger cities around Georgia. The irony is that it takes money to do that, and our budget cuts are making it very difficult if not impossible in some cases."
Riggs said people in charge of booking conventions for large groups will visit locations on the group's "short list" before picking their destination. There are costs associated with hosting those people ranging from travel expenses to renting a bus.
"It is part of what is expected now," she said. "We don't make the rules, but we would like to have the resources that we need to compete with other cities for this business."
Jenny Foss, president of the SCVB board of directors, echoed Riggs' concerns at the organization's annual meeting held this past Thursday.
"Our hotels here need to be supported, and visitor business supports them as well as a number of other industries in town such as restaurant and retail," Foss said. "It is an exciting time as we have entered a new phase in the visitor and convention business. I just hope that budget cuts haven't crippled the mission of the SCVB."
Budget cuts aside, Riggs said the SCVB is gearing up for Georgia's Special Olympics fall games which Statesboro is hosting on October 3, 4, and 5.
"We are expecting 1700 athletes, 340 coaches, and 250 people from the Family Action Network to be in Statesboro on that weekend," Riggs said. "It is a huge event that should bring a lot of tourist dollars to Statesboro over that three day weekend."
Riggs said Statesboro is slated to host the games for the next three years.
"This is the largest event that we have booked at this time through 2010," she said. "Right now, we are bidding for events to be held in 2011 and 2012. The changes in our hotel capacity will not bear fruit until then. Convention and sports tournament planners work 24 to 36 months in advance when securing a location."
For the short term, Riggs said the SCVB will continue to pick up and host smaller groups until larger bids begin to materialize.