Nicole Thurston: Why tourism? Why now?

Published 2:01 pm Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Fields of cotton that look more like fallen snow, Victorian architecture that transports you back in time, and a growing downtown that offers local culinary flavors and incredible boutiques. This melting pot of history, culture, and affordable opportunity is what drew me, an outsider, to Americus. I began my position as the director of Tourism for Americus-Sumter County back in May of this year. My very first day, after the paperwork was completed, I was whisked away to a merchants meeting in downtown. As a newcomer, and honestly not really sure what I was getting into, I entered a gorgeous salon on Jackson and was welcomed into the fold – immediately. Dozens of local business owners were there, sipping coffee, chit chatting about how things were going, and most importantly, eager to see change.
I knew I was where I needed to be.
So why tourism? And more importantly, why now? Sure, we are nestled between two national historic sites, which by their very nature, are an instant attraction for visitors. Plus, we have peanuts and a former U.S. President. We have Habitat for Humanity and the historic Rylander Theatre. And we can’t forget the Grande Dame of them all – the historic Windsor Hotel. With so much tourism product, you would think the demand would market itself.
And maybe … sure. Maybe just by doing and being, our community would continue to welcome visitors without a whole lot of effort on our part. But we can do better than that – And we are!
Just this past July, our Regional Visitors Information Center (also known as the Welcome Center) saw double the visitors than in years past. Our hotels were at double occupancy. Our festivals had record turn-outs. Things were happening, and not just by a few dedicated individuals that always did the same thing; this time we took those dedicated volunteers and partnered them with other entities in our community, and what happened was nothing short of success. When tourism succeeds – our economy succeeds. Money spent by visitors, as well as the hotel-motel tax collected, makes a difference on everyone’s bottom line. For the first time in many years, the City and County, the Chamber, the board of education, our universities and One Sumter all came together and decided that instead of working in silos, we would link arms and build our community up. One of the ways we can do that is through tourism.
Understanding the economic impact that tourism makes on our community is exactly why now is the perfect time to embrace what we have to offer and work toward telling our story.
What you are going to see in the coming months is a stronger brand and identity, more ways to connect and engage with our events and committees, and in turn, more feet on the street and heads in the beds from our visitors.

Nicole Thurston is director of Tourism, City of Americus. Contact her at 229-928-6059, ext. 254.