Relationships are the key to life and business. It is support. It is advice. It is camaraderie. We need relationships to nourish our soul and keep us inspired. With that in mind, it made absolute sense to begin the road trip with a visit to the Southeast Tourism Society in Roswell, Georgia. My introduction to the organization was through STS Marketing College (which I hope to finally complete this year!) and has grown into valued friendships and great admiration for these tourism super-advocates.
Tourism is embedded in the DNA of STS President and CEO Bill Hardman, who is celebrating his 20th year at the helm of the organization founded by his father, the late legendary Mr. Bill Thompson Hardman. The passion carried through Bill, Suzanne “Mama” Moon, Wendy Thomas, and Nadia Merrit, the day we got to visit.
It was great to hear their enthusiasm about Due North Sports Partners and our desire to work with smaller communities to help them build up their sports opportunities. The door has been opened for future collaborative efforts that will only serve to enhance the Southeast's reputation as a generous and accommodating host. It is a partnership we at Due North Sports Partners look forward to and welcome.
For a sports geek, there’s no shortage of nice “stuff” in Georgia. If ever there was a more fertile time for the state to capitalize on sports tourism, this is it. And with an abundance of great facilities across the state, right holders and event owners not only have their choice of premium venues, they can also decide whether they want the mountains, the ocean, the City, whatever, as their backdrop. That’s a convenience and a selling point for the state.
Over three-and-a-half days in February, I toured a handful of communities across Georgia visiting old friends and making new ones. From Cobb County to Rabun County, I toured facilities that have hosted the premiere events of their discipline and also venues that didn’t even know they were venues yet. Sports are no longer bound to the traditional fields-of-play and everything should be up for consideration.
From community to community, the excitement was palatable. I accept my biases when it comes to my tour guides, but hearing the plans and seeing the great facilities we have across North Georgia was inspiring. It also didn’t hurt to see so many willing to expand their creativity and go big when it comes to cool events.
Sports tourism as economic development is the new paradigm. You see it manifest itself in a planned sports destination community like Lakepoint in Emerson, the development of new facilities in White County Helen, Georgia, or the level of events hosted in Cobb County and Cumming. These few communities I visited are just a small fraction of what the greater state of Georgia features.
Because of my relationships with sports tourism professionals statewide, I can tell you what we are seeing in North Georgia is happening all over the state. It’s doing wonders for local economies and, collectively, leaving a major impact on the state. It is also leaving a significant impact across our country. As more communities embrace sports tourism as economic development, the benefits are great. And from our vantage point, communities willing to capitalize on it are doing the reaping.
For a long time, I’ve wanted to go on a road trip to visit the communities of my friends and peers in the Georgia sports industry. The aim was to see the venues where they make the magic happen and spend some quality time hearing about their approach to sports tourism. With the launch of Due North Sports Partners, the opportunity presented itself, so a few weeks ago, I hit the road for Atlanta and then kept going north.
Georgia has an abundance of great resources and it’s cool to see how different communities utilize theirs. Behind the venues and events are a passionate band of warriors that deftly meld salesmanship, community activism, and passion, into serious economic development. It’s impressive really.
The facilities I toured ran the gamut from Lakepoint, the fantastic sports mega-complex in Emerson, Georgia (more later) to the vineyards of Yonah Mountain Vineyard in White County, which will be the site of a grueling trail race, The Crusher, this May. Whether traditional or non-traditional, Georgia has the venues to host virtually any sport. And the communities who are maximizing their sports tourism efforts are reaping great dividends.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to thank everyone along the trip who gave willingly of their time and knowledge. If you work in an industry long enough, you develop a lot of friendships. When it comes to these folks, it was more like seeing family. Thank you Wendy Thomas, Bill Hardman, and Suzanne Moon at Southeast Tourism Society; Rachel Rogers at Cobb Sports Alliance; Renee Carden at Lake Lanier CVB; Anna Barlow at the Cumming-Forsyth Chamber of Commerce; Jerry Brown of Alpine Helen/White County CVB; and Teka Earnhardt with Explore Rabun. The State of Georgia has a lot to be proud of with its great selection of venues, and even prouder of the fine folks there to promote them. From what I see, Georgia is in a very good place.