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Athens, GA, October 4, 2022 – The Athens Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) held its first annual meeting since 2019 today, October 4, at The Classic Center to share the release of new tourism economic impact figures for Athens-Clarke County, present the annual Athens Hospitality Awards and unveil the new tourism strategic plan.

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 $338.3 million in direct, tourism spending in Athens-Clarke County in 2021. This spending put 3,977 people to work in Athens-Clarke County this past year and in turn, their jobs generated a $97.7 million payroll, as well as $27.3 million in state tax local tax.

“While we are not quite recovered from pre-pandemic levels, we have seen a strong positive trajectory in visitor spending for 2021 compared to the previous year,” remarked Katie Williams, CVB director. “In 2020, visitor spending was $237.1 million, so within a short year we saw a tremendous growth rate of 42.7%. People are traveling again and are choosing to visit our destination, and this is due to the continued investment our partners and businesses.”

The winners of the 2021 Athens Hospitality Awards were also recognized at the meeting for their accomplishments in creating a positive experience for the Athens-Clarke County visitor. Award winners include:

The Partner of the Year Award, honoring a CVB partner in the local hospitality industry who acknowledges the value of working together to achieve greatness, was presented to David Cappi, president of DePalmas restaurant. The CVB recognized David with this award because of his extensive support of and participation in Athens Restaurant Week, in addition to his contributions to downtown Athens and the local hospitality community.

The Hospitality HEROES (Hospitality Employees Recognition of Excellent Service) of the Year Award, recognizing a front-line employee who has exceeded normal expectations to provide excellent service to visitors and residents, was given to Ioannis Karytinos, guest relations manager of Hyatt Place. “Ioannis is one of a kind. He started off as a gallery host and was promoted shortly after”, says Hyatt Place general manager Angela Smith. “Nothing is ever too much for him, he helps in all departments and is very passionate about hospitality. Our guests love Ioannis, and he has never met a stranger!”

The Classic Host Award, identifying a local individual committed to bringing a new convention, meeting or event to the Athens- Clarke County area to generate a significant economic impact, was awarded to Cecil Wilder, executive director of the Georgia Music Educators Association. In the past 3 years alone, GMEA has brought 16 conferences to Athens with a total economic impact of over $15 Million.

The Louis Griffith Hospitality Leadership Award, honoring an outstanding individual who displays foresight and exceptional leadership skills to impact the Athens-Clarke County hospitality industry, was given to William “Bill” Eiland, Georgia Museum of Art director. Bill has been the university museum’s director since 1992 and under his leadership, it has grown into the major tourist attraction it is today. “As Bill approaches retirement in March 2023, it seems right to honor his contributions to leadership in the hospitality industry with this award,” says Hillary Brown, Georgia Museum of Art communications director. “From the time he was hired, he has focused on making our museum the best it can be, by developing several crowd-drawing exhibitions, prioritizing our tourism and economic development through his active participation in the Historic Heartland Tourism Association, and more.”

“Our tourism growth is a ripple effect of the work our hospitality leaders put in each day,” continued Williams. “We are pleased to present these awards as a way to honor these community members who inspire us to pour back into the beloved destination that Athens has become and continues to be for both visitors and locals alike.”

Lastly, the Athens Tourism Strategic Plan, compiled with extensive research by Gray Research Solutions and Magellan Strategy Group, was presented at the meeting. Community-focused and forward thinking, the strategic plan will serve to support the CVB and the community in prioritizing the Athens travel experience with guiding principles such as maintaining and celebrating Athens’ unique character, leveraging the University of Georgia as an everyday tourism asset, feeding the Athens brand, and more.

See here for headshots of the Athens Hospitality Award recipients.