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May. 28, 2017
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State officials unveil long-term tourism development options

By Pamela A. Keene 
 
Flowery Branch could be poised to be the epicenter for tourism in Hall County, taking the lead as the gateway to the Northeast Georgia Mountains for visitors. In late April, state economic development and tourism officials presented the results of an in-depth three-day visit several months ago to help identify the strengths and challenges that could kick tourism up a notch for Hall and literally put this part of Georgia on the visitation map. 
 
From public art projects to the development of historic sites, Hall County is ripe for tourism development. But first, some issues need to be addressed.
 
“Right now there is no clear identity for Hall County, its towns and cities,” said Janice Marshall, tourism and travel consultant who helped put Macon’s music scene and annual international cherry blossom festival on the world stage as long-time director of tourism in Macon/Bibb County. “And you have a unique situation here with two convention and visitors bureaus – Gainesville CVB and Lanier CVB – who need to work together to identify and consolidate the brand, as well as their resources. By combining resources, you can create a greater impact.”
 
The 15-member team visited virtually every corner of the 429-square-mile county – one of the state’s largest – several months ago to assess tourism, attraction and lodging attributes, things that already exist that, with some tweaks can be upgraded and promoted across the Southeast. They identified Flowery Branch, with its proximity to I-85 and I-985, as the perfect place to bring people into Hall County, not only as an access point to Lake Lanier but also as the gateway to the Northeast Georgia Mountains.
 
“Putting an interactive and engaging welcome center in Flowery Branch and creating a billboard campaign to redirect people to this area makes good sense,” Marshall said. “Include a children’s activity area, videos, and a gift shop to engage visitors and show them what this area offers for adventure, sports, history, transportation. We did an extensive inventory of the assets here and it’s really incredible.” 
 
The 140-page spiral-bound report includes specific attractions, historical sites and potential areas of development to increase the economic impact of tourism in Hall County. It also includes a lengthy section of resources for officials and tourism marketers.
 
“Hall County could be a destination market the way that Savannah is once the county and officials work to create a sense of place, label it, brand it and market it,” Marshall said. “Are you the Chicken Capital, a college town, a lake and recreation community? What are your attractors, the big hook to bring visitors here?” 
 
“We were so impressed by the large number of things to do, places to see, historic and heritage sites to promote and outdoor activities so close by, just waiting to be marketed.” 
 
Presenters agreed that Lake Lanier and its assets are a “big wild card” in the marketable tourism mix. “This part of the state is filled with outdoor and adventure opportunities,” said Jim Langford, president of the MillionMile Greenway that was instrumental in creating Atlanta’s Beltway. “Trails can be a great connector between attractions and historic sites. What about a ‘Gold Belt Trail’ that could connect Dahlonega and Lake Lanier to the Silver Comet Trail for hikers, cyclists and adventurers? Or think about water-based trails that draw people to interact with the lake, the rivers and attractions.”
 
The 90-minute presentation touched on creating a number of possibilities at the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue, Historic Healan Mill, Don Carter State Park, the Buford Corn Maze, INK children’s museum, the Atlanta Falcons, Wrigley and Jaemor Farms, among others. “Expedite visitor access to all that you have to offer and capitalize on your assets,” said Chris Cannon, Georgia’s assistant tourism product development director. 
 
“Bring in more lodging options, from bed-and-breakfast inns and boutique hotels to downtown lofts, add reasons for people to come and stay here, such as public art and stories about people,” said Cindy Eidson, director of Georgia’s Office of Tourism Project Development. “And certainly encourage your residents to play tourist here in Hall County. They’re among your best promoters.”

Posted online 5/1/17
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