Georgia’s 150th not drawing the tourists

From the Augusta Chronicle:

Civil War anniversary tourists aren’t invading Georgia

ATLANTA — State officials had hoped the 150th anniversary of the Civil War would find visitors marching to Georgia.

So far, however, any tourist boom has been about as silent as the spiked cannon on the Ken­nesaw Mountain Battlefield.

Georgia, the site of more Civil War battles than any state except Virginia, had an opportunity to capitalize on its assets, officials said, but for various reasons the opportunity isn’t being fully exploited.

“The state, I think, had larger plans at one point before the cuts came,” said Rebecca Rogers of the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area, referring to a lingering budget shortfall.

Augusta offers canal tours to the site of the Confederate Powder Works, where only the chimney remains. A plaza with interpretive signs is planned around the chimney, and the community has occasional lectures there.

“Augusta isn’t one that springs immediately to mind for the average person,” Rogers said.

Other state sites are better known. Georgia is the birthplace and resting place of generals and other Confederate leaders, including its vice president, Alexander Stephens. Its president, Jefferson Davis, was captured here. Even fictional works – most famously Gone With the Wind – celebrate Georgia’s role.

The state has made modest efforts to raise awareness. For example, the Georgia Department of Economic Development highlighted the Great Locomotive Chase of April 12, 1862, in which Union soldiers in civilian clothes made off with a Confederate train engine, leading to a dramatic railroad chase.

Promotions yielded some results. Quick-response codes in ads and posters led 133 smartphone users to scan for more information, including a special advertising section in Trains magazine.

A video was played 537 times and an audio file 158 times, helping to swell the crowd at events commemorating the raid.

But aside from specialized publications, Georgia hasn’t really launched a major campaign focused on the Civil War.

It doesn’t do any television advertising, other than sponsoring Georgia Traveler on Georgia Public Broadcasting. The print, online and billboard advertising it does focuses on working mothers seeking vacations that offer family activities such as fishing, stargazing, hiking and kayaking, which are not unique to Georgia.

However, the department does feature Civil War commemorations in a newsletter e-mailed to about 2,000 subscribers, and it is scripting driving tours. Plans also call for an online video, welcome-center brochures, and familiarization trips for tour operators and travel writers next year, all related to the war, but no mass marketing, according to Stefanie Paupeck, a specialist on the department’s marketing and communications staff.

“We’ve been very limited with the budget we have,” she said. “We’re trying to do things that would benefit all travelers, not just the history buffs.”

Attracting travelers is important. Tourism is a potent economic engine because it doesn’t require the lead time of factory construction, doesn’t have spewing smokestacks and is more labor-intensive than manufacturing. As a source of foreign revenue, it is growing this year at double the rate of average U.S. exports.

“America’s economic recovery is being driven largely by the travel industry,” said Roger Dow, the president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “Each international visitor we welcome to the U.S. helps to support local communities and small businesses across our country. This is a tremendous opportunity.”

(Original article)

I would offer a few more reasons for the lack of sesquicentennial tourism in Georgia.  Aside from Fort Pulaski, the big cannon blasts in Georgia took place from September 1863 through December 1864. And once those dates roll up, there are far too many “lost sites” around Atlanta and across Georgia – making “anchoring” observances cumbersome.  Add to that a negative connotation left from the long running “flag” debate in the state.

At the same time, there is some inflated expectation that sesquicentenial events directly translate to money falling from the sky.  Not saying that is the case here.  Just that I’ve seen a lot of seemingly contradictory reports – well attended events, but not a lot of dollars thrown about.  Maybe we sesqui-types are just penny-pinchers.