In 2013, tourists spent almost $126 million in Bulloch County, according to the U.S. Travel Association.
In 2013-2014, the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau assisted record numbers of tourists and visitors and, since its spacious new Regional Visitors Center opened in September, the number stopping by the SCVB has increased further.
"Actually, our daily traffic is almost double, so we're really excited about that," said Heidi Jeffers, executive director for the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Now, about 50 people per day stop by the center, a thoroughly remodeled, freestanding former restaurant.
The building with its lodge-like stone and wood accents also houses the Museum on Main, an offshoot of the Georgia Southern University Museum. When the new center opened in September, it was immediately saluted by the Georgia Department of Economic Development as one of the top three regional visitors centers out of 62 such centers in Georgia.
No wonder, then, that the SCVB's leaders expect further successes in 2015, and some are materializing. With the new level of partnership between the Georgia Southern University and the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Statesboro will host the Georgia Association of Museums and Galleries annual conference Jan. 21-23. The conference, which moves around the state from year to year, is expected to draw 125-150 museum professionals.
They will spend three days discussing how best to sustain, build and improve Georgia's museums and galleries "with Statesboro's success as a backdrop and context," GSU Museum Director Dr. Brent Tharp said in a statement provided by the Visitors Bureau.
"It has been over a decade since (the state conference was held) in Statesboro, and I know the community will impress those who have not been here since and introduce it to many new colleagues and friends."
Meanwhile, the GSU Museum and the Visitors Bureau also are working on a new museum exhibit to showcase music in the Statesboro and Georgia Southern region.
In another example of cooperation, for the first time, Georgia Southern University sent buses filled with students' parents downtown during the university's Fall Family Weekend in 2014. This was about two weeks after the new visitor center opened.
"We had over 500 parents come downtown on the buses and they stopped at the CVB and then walked downtown and visited the Farmers Market," Jeffers said. "It was really a great day, and that gave us a lot of exposure."
Jeffers said she hopes the university builds on encouraging more parents and students to head downtown in 2015, including some homecoming events during next football season.
Counting tourists & dollars
The $126 million figure, or $125.58 million to be precise, is the estimate of 2013 tourism expenditures in Bulloch County from a study prepared for the Georgia Department of Economic Development by the U.S. Travel Association. This follows an 82-percent increase in a decade and 30-percent growth in the last three years.
Bulloch enjoys the largest economic benefit from tourism of any of the 24 counties of the state's Magnolia Midlands tourism region, but also has the largest population.
Statesboro and Bulloch County ranked 28th in tourism expenditures among Georgia's 159 counties, and would rank 23rd with metro Atlanta counties excluded. Tourism created about 1,100 jobs here, according to the report.
The annual totals of tourists, visitors and their dollars were included in a presentation Jeffers and SCVB President Dr. Darin Van Tassell shared with Statesboro City Council during a workshop prior to a December council meeting.
For other numbers, the bureau did its own counts. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2014, the SCVB assisted more than 200,319 tourists and visitors. That number includes people who stopped by, who called the bureau, and some met at conferences, Jeffers said.
State officials count visitors from more than 50 miles away as tourists. But for its visitor numbers, the SCVB counts all visitors from outside the county.
From July 1 through November 2014, the bureau assisted more than 116,000 tourists and visitors, clearly outpacing the previous year's monthly numbers.
"We're really the marketing firm for the city," said Van Tassell. "We're marketing to those tourists from 50 miles and further, and when you do that, outstanding things happen."
Sometimes tourists become residents, he noted. Tourist spending contributes directly to the economy, and the bureau's work helps fill hotel and motel rooms, which in turn funds the agency, Van Tassell observed.
Three organizations - the SCVB, the Averitt Center for the Arts and the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority - receive the city's hotel-motel tax dollars. The Visitors Bureau gets the largest share, but the tax is the only funding source for the bureau's annual budget, currently about $240,000, Jeffers said.
Jeffers and Marketing Manager Becky Davis are the bureau's full-time, paid staff. It has two part-time employees as well
Van Tassell is a GSU political science associate professor and he and his wife own The Clubhouse, which offers attractions from bowling and golf to electric cart racing and laser tag. He currently leads the seven-member, volunteer SCVB board.
The university and its sports programs are a major force, but not the only force, behind tourism here, Van Tassell observed, mentioning Ogeechee Technical College and East Georgia State College. Splash in the Boro, the water park operated by the Statesboro-Bulloch County Parks and Recreation Department, brings in visitors and tourists, as do agritourism destinations such as Hunter Cattle Co. and Meinhardt Vineyards.
The presentation also listed seven articles in magazines and an out-of-state newspaper the SCVB helped arrange featuring area attractions and noted the bureau's social media efforts.
"Whether it's marketing to the movie industry that's looking for certain shots for movies or TV shows, whether it's conference or weddings, or reunions, whether it's teens and trying to bring them into our entertainment and attraction areas and restaurants, the SCVB is seeking to do all of those things," Van Tassell said.
The SCVB will host Business After Hours, a Statesboro-Bulloch County Chamber of Commerce event, Jan. 15, 5-6:30 p.m.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.