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Local tourism figures showing signs of life

ALBANY, Ga. -- Local tourism numbers continue to grow in what could be one of the first indications that the area is slowly recovering from a crippling economic recession.

Lisa Riddle, director of the Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Thursday that both occupancy and revenue for local hotels and motels were up significantly from the same time last year and are trending in positive figures year-to-date.

As of Sept. 1, occupancy of Albany hotels and motels is at 54.4 percent since January, which is up 2.8 percent from this time last year.

Revenues generated by those businesses are up 3.6 percent from last year at $18.8 million, Riddle said. Those numbers are compiled and provided to the CVB by Smith Travel Research.

The numbers are even more dramatic when one compares August 2010 figures with August 2009, when Riddle says the area was really feeling the pain of a downtrodden economy.

Those month-to-month figures show that for August 2010, occupancy rates were 18.5 percent higher than August 2009, and revenues were up by 24 percent.

Riddle attributes the increase to the region's slow crawl out of the recession.

"Things just were really bad last summer. That's when we probably were right at the bottom of things," she said.

Those trends continued to be sluggish, with occupancy and revenues in decline until March 2010, when Riddle says the figures show there was an upward turn.

Since May, both categories have been heading upward into the positive range.

Tourism, Georgia's second-largest industry, has been suffering through the recession. When people find it hard to come by money to eat, they tend to avoid spending anything on vacations or business travel, Riddle said.

But, according to information from the Georgia Department of Economic Development and the U.S. Travel Association, revenues generated by tourism statewide reduced taxes in Georgia households by $518 last year.

The upward turn is a pleasant surprise for Riddle and the rest of the CVB because an increase in revenues for hotels in town translates to an increase in the revenues that flow into the CVB. The entity gets 50 percent of the revenues generated by the 7 percent hotel-motel tax with the remainder going to the city of Albany.

That translates roughly to a $719,000 annual budget for Riddle and the CVB, which uses those funds to promote Albany and Dougherty County through advertisements in national trade magazines and websites, and to accomplish its mission of ensuring that the Good Life City has events like the upcoming International Festival.