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Splash boosts tourism
Bulloch Co. ranks 15th in Georgia for tourist $ $
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Kristen Barney, a trainer with the manufacturer of the Flowrider, Splash in the Boro's latest attraction, demonstrates the ride forlifeguards at Splash. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
      This past Thursday, the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau held its annual meeting highlighting a better than expected year for tourism in Bulloch County in 2008.
       During the meeting, the organization's director Jaime Riggs presented some statistics that may be surprising to many. According to Riggs, Bulloch County's tourism industry ranks 15th among Georgia's 159 counties, and tourism is Bulloch County's fourth largest industry with over 1100 employees.
       In 2008, gross hotel revenue in the city of Statesboro eclipsed the $10,000,000 mark, and tourists spent more than $88 million in Bulloch County.
       Riggs attributes the steadfastness of our local tourism industry to the unique and different attractions that are located here.
"From a winery to a water park, there is something here for everyone, and many of our venues are expanding," Riggs said. "Meinhardt Vineyards has expanded, the GSU Wildlife Education Center on Georgia Southern's campus has a new 12 acre wetland expansion, and Splash is about to open theirs. I hope that these types of things will keep our tourist dollars up in a tough economy."
       It may surprise many to read that local realtor Pat Hirsch is the new president of the organization's board of directors. "Being a realtor, I have to sell Statesboro to folks every day," she said. "The SCVB serves a very important purpose in that it is continuously promoting what is so good about Statesboro, and all of the things that it has to offer visitors and potential new residents. That is why I felt it was very important to be of service to this organization."
       At the organization's annual meeting, three local residents were honored. Debra Chester received the Sylvia Brown Tourism Champion Award for spearheading programs at the Georgia Southern University Botanical Gardens, being instrumental in the creation of the Main Street Farmers Market and the new 5K Turkey Trot, and general contributions towards stimulating economic development in the downtown Statesboro district.
       "You know, this may sound a little funny, but I think it is as important to promote Statesboro and what we have to offer to those who live here as it is to those who may visit," Chester said. "That is where my passion is. I want us to see what each of us has to offer to our community and to one another. That is what I have tried to promote, and when people from other communities see that, it makes us more attractive and a more desirable place to visit."
       One of those individuals honored who takes every available opportunity to promote his local community is Ike Hubbard. Hubbard received a newly created award - the Hometown Host. Hubbard is responsible for initiating the effort to bring the January 2010 convention of the Technical Industrial Education Association of Georgia to Statesboro.
       "It is an organization that I have belonged to for several years," said Hubbard. "Usually their conference is held in North Georgia, having been held the last several years in Newnan. When it was mentioned that they may be interested in looking at another site, I brought up Statesboro and all that we had to offer including hotels and conference facilities."
       Hubbard said Riggs jumped on the opportunity designing a presentation and getting everyone together. "When the group came to look at Statesboro, they were so impressed that they committed to hold it here right there on the spot."
Riggs said the convention should bring approximately 500 attendees to Statesboro at time of the year when tourism is normally down somewhat.
       "This convention will be the last week in January which should be a big boost to our local economy when we typically don't have a lot of visitors," she said. "It took a joint effort of the private and public sectors to secure this group. In addition to lodging, it is anticipated that this group will use facilities at both Statesboro High School and Ogeechee Tech."
       The SCVB is funded by Statesboro's hotel motel tax. That tax is used to fund other nonprofit organizations in Statesboro as well. Riggs wants local citizens to remember that tourism generated tax dollars reduces the tax dollar outlay of Bulloch County residents.
"Because of tourism here, local citizens paid $3,000,000 less in state taxes and $2,500,000 less in local taxes," she said.
       The third award winner was Sean Hargraves who received the 2009 Bulloch County Hospitality Employee of the Year award. Hargraves is the general manager of the Comfort Inn and Suites and the LaQuinta Inn.