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Visit Athens GA highlights tourism and hospitality growth at annual meeting

Visit Athens GA on Thursday held its annual meeting at The Classic Center to share new tourism economic impact figures for Athens-Clarke County, present the annual Athens Hospitality Awards and unveil a new matching funds grant program to support local events that attract visitors to town.

According to the Travel Economic Impact on Georgia State, Counties and Regions study prepared for the Georgia Department of Economic Development by Tourism Economics, visitors spent $434.7 million in direct, tourism spending in Athens-Clarke County in 2022. This spending put 4,414 people to work in the county this past year and generated $31.5 million in state and local taxes.

“Travel is back and only continuing to grow in Athens as we surpass pre-pandemic levels,” stated Katie Williams, executive director of Visit Athens GA. “In 2022, visitor spending reached $434.7 million, increasing by about 29% from just the previous year. We’re seeing a strong positive trajectory across all categories, from lodging to restaurants and retail, all thanks to our dedicated partners and businesses who make Athens a great place to visit.” 

The winners of the 2022 Athens Hospitality Awards were also recognized during the meeting for their achievements in creating a vibrant and inclusive atmosphere for Athens-Clarke County visitors. Award winners include:  

The Partner of the Year Award, which honors a local partner in the hospitality industry who demonstrates the value of working together to achieve excellence, was presented to Paul Skinner, co-founder and co-owner of Athentic Brewing Company. Paul and Athentic Brewing Company collaborated with Visit Athens GA to create the Wide Open IPA, a special beer celebrating the creative spirit of Visit Athens GA new tagline “We’re Always Open”. With an unwavering commitment to inclusion, meaningful connection, and uplifting fellow local businesses, Paul was awarded this honor as a figurehead in the Athens community and a friend to everyone who meets him.  

The Hospitality HERO (Hospitality Employees Recognition) of the Year Award, recognizing a front-line employee who has gone above and beyond in delivering exceptional service to both visitors and residents, was given to Caitlin Short, the visitor experience specialist at the Historic Athens Welcome Center. An Athens native, Caitlin's journey with the Welcome Center began over 10 years ago with a passion for showcasing the historical houses in her hometown. Her steadfast commitment to preserving history and sharing the untold stories of her community makes her an invaluable asset, not only to the Welcome Center but to the broader hospitality and tourism industry.

The Classic Host Award, showcasing a local individual committed to bringing a new convention, meeting or event to the Athens-Clarke County area that increases economic impact, was awarded to Beverly Arnold, the conference and events operation manager at the Board of Regents of The University System of Georgia. With 26 years at the Board of Regents, Beverly has played a significant role in Athens’ meetings and events industry by bringing and retaining notable groups and events such as Interact USG, USG Teaching and Learning Conference, Facilities Officers Conference and the Momentum Summit. 

The Louis Griffith Hospitality Leadership Award, honoring a distinguished individual who displays preparedness and outstanding leadership skills to impact the Athens-Clarke County hospitality industry, was given to the coordinator and professor of the University of Georgia’s hospitality & food industry management, Dr. John Salazar. Since starting the hospitality & food industry management major at the University of Georgia, Dr. Salazar has helped place Athens on the map as a champion of the hospitality industry with the University of Georgia among the top-rated universities with a hospitality management program. 

Visit Athens GA also announced the Athens Events Marketing Grant, a matching funds grant program to support local event organizers as they unveil programming that attracts new overnight visitors to Athens-Clarke County. The Athens Events Marketing Grant will award a total of $20,000 through one-to-one matching grants, with a maximum award of $5,000. All application materials must be received by Nov. 15 and award notices will be distributed by Dec. 15.

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