Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant has launched an initiative designed to promote the state’s 100 miles of shoreline to tourists, while protecting and sustaining the natural coastal environment.
A Coastal Georgia Tourism Conference in April at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens drew almost 100 people, including representatives from the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD), Tybee Island, the Golden Isles (Jekyll Island, St. Simons and Sea Island), the UGA Carl Vinson Institute of Government, Troy University, nonprofit environmental groups like 100 Miles, and communities along the coast (Savannah, Darien, Brunswick and St. Marys) that depend on tourism for their local economy.
Attendees discussed a branding campaign for the entire coast, which would be in addition to, not in place of current branding for individual beaches and communities.
Jonathan Tourtellot, founder of the National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations, was the key note speaker for the daylong conference. Tourtellot warned that marketing the coastline to more tourists should be done carefully in order to sustain the beaches, saltmarshes, wildlife and native cultures.
“You cannot put an infinite number of tourists in confined spaces,” Tourtellot said. “Managing tourism and managing places are the same job.”
It would be hard to make up the revenue lost if there was no coastal tourism, because the tourism industry is the fifth largest employer in the state, said Cheryl Hargrove, director of industry and partner relations in the tourism division of GDEcD.
On average every household in Georgia would have to pay an additional $885 a year to replace the tourism taxes received by state and local governments in 2017, Hargrove said.
Mark Risse, director of the UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, said he had wanted to bring stakeholders along the coast together to discuss these issue for several years.
“All the things I thought a conference like this might be able to accomplish, I heard today,” Risse said.
Sponsors of the conference included Georgia Power, Georgia Grown and UGA Cooperative Extension. Attendees indicated in a survey that they would like to hold the conference on an annual basis.