GDEcD Commissioner Pat Wilson: State’s Tourism is Down Due to Pandemic, but Not Out

Pat Wilson

Wednesday, June 24th, 2020

As the unofficial capital of the Southeast, Georgia has the biggest cities, the most diverse population and a vast geographical range from the mountains to the beach. Our tourism industry constantly redefines what it means to be Southern by sharing the places, culture, stories and people that make Georgia so unique, and this has earned our state a strong reputation as a top travel destination.  

Just weeks before Covid-19 halted all travel, we gathered together at the Capitol to celebrate a record-setting year that saw 111.7 million visitors, $36.9 billion in travel spending and 478,000 tourism industry jobs in the state. And 2020 was already on track to be even stronger. This pandemic has impacted our tourism industry in ways that were unimaginable in January.  

While Georgia’s tourism industry has felt the painful effects of the pandemic, the foundations that made it possible to consistently break tourism records remain intact. The Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) and its Explore Georgia team remain committed to safely advancing Georgia’s economy and supporting the tourism industry. 

As we responded to Covid-19, every division of GDEcD shifted efforts to assist our state’s diverse businesses, tourism included. To start, our state tourism office, Explore Georgia, activated its crisis communications plan. Unlike crisis situations of the past with definitive timelines, this crisis has no playbook. We quickly evolved our plans, while continuing to engage with visitors and provide inspiration for future travel. After a brief marketing hiatus, we launched a campaign to keep Georgia on travelers’ minds even when they couldn’t travel: Explore Georgia from Home. In an extraordinarily short time, we built a program that was deployed via web, social media, email and media relations, casting the broadest possible net for our efforts.  

To support our tourism industry partners across the state, we launched a Covid-19 page on our Industry Portal, where we connected our partners with the latest state and federal guidelines, travel data and research, and resources.  

While most state tourism websites saw a crash in website traffic, many with drops of 60% or more, that didn’t happen on the ExploreGeorgia site. We also saw increases in our social media channels and our audience growth on Facebook was nearly double that of surrounding state travel offices. 

Our ability to deftly shift and adapt new strategies will continue to be crucial in keeping our travel industry afloat in the short-term and to growing this dynamic industry in the long-term. This is one of many reasons GDEcD is proud to announce that Mark Jaronski, a 25-year travel and tourism industry leader and veteran Disney marketing executive, has been hired to lead our Explore Georgia team. 

As Georgia and surrounding states continue to reopen, we know travelers are seeking places where they can safely maintain social distance and that they feel safest traveling by car. Knowing this, we will focus our marketing efforts on encouraging Georgians to stay in Georgia. We want residents to travel in-state, support local businesses and explore all that Georgia has to offer.  

We’re seeing the investments that Georgia’s tourism industry partners have made to keep their employees and customers safe. As consumer confidence grows and travel restrictions are relaxed, we’ll begin to look at targeting a broader market of potential visitors once again.  

We recognize the road to recovery will be challenging, but our focus continues to be on ensuring travelers remain eager to discover Georgia's inspiring stories, beautiful destinations and unique experiences. We know their desire to travel is still alive, and when they’re ready to explore, we’ll be ready to welcome them.  

Pat Wilson is Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development.