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LaGrange’s tourism industry on the rebound from pandemic

As COVID cases have steadily declined in Troup County and summer spurs the need to get out and go, LaGrange’s tourism department is hoping for a continued recovery in the local economy.

Tourism in LaGrange is getting back on track this year, said Kathy Tilley, the president and CEO of Visit LaGrange, thought it’s still a work in progress.

“The good news is that we are definitely seeing some travel to LaGrange, so we’re heading in the right direction…but we’re not quite out of the woods yet,” Tilley said.

Memorial Day seemed to bring the area a boost, Tilley said. 

She said conversations with local businesses indicated that there were more people out and about.

Ticket sales at Sweetland Amphitheatre are up as well, she said.

With summer now here, Tilley is waiting for last month’s statistics to come in so that she can have a calculation of the growth.

She said that she is fairly positive that the numbers will be up.

Many restaurants and businesses are still short staffed in LaGrange and Troup County, Tilley said.

However, Visit LaGrange has seen an increase in travel to LaGrange this year compared to 2020.

Hotel occupancy is up significantly higher this year and was up 72 percent in April.

In 2019, they were about 76 percent, fairly high with the Great Wolf Lodge’s first full year open.

Tilley credits the coronavirus vaccine as a major contributor to the rebound on the tourism industry overall, as visitors and locals are beginning to find confidence again.

“We’re very hopeful, and we’re very appreciative to the people who come and visit LaGrange,” Tilley said. “It’s so much easier to get a repeat guest than it is to get a new one.”

Visit LaGrange will be a recipient of a special round of Tourism Recovery Marketing Grants, totaling $2.5 million, from Explore Georgia, the state tourism office within the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

Visit LaGrange will receive a reimbursable grant of $50,000, the exact amount the organization asked for a microburst marketing campaign, which will consist of snippets of video showing activities and attractions in LaGrange, Tilley said.

The Explore Georgia Tourism Recovery Marketing Grant program was designed to provide relief to areas of the state most impacted by the drop in tourism.

According to a press release from Gov. Brian Kemp’s office, the grants will fund promotional efforts to aid the travel industry’s recovery in 2021.

A total of 34 destination marketing organizations in 27 counties will receive a combined total of nearly $2.5 million in recovery marketing funding as part of this one-time grant program, the press release states.

The grants awarded have prioritized organizations and communities that have experienced the greatest impact from the loss of visitors and subsequent tourism spending during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re grateful the state decided to distribute these grants and give a lot of these smaller communities some much-needed help,” Tilley said.

The applications were evaluated based on need, quantified by the year-over-year loss in Hotel-Motel Excise Tax collections for the organization, and the change in unemployment in the organization’s county, the press release states.

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