Athens, Georgia (Thursday, October 24) --The Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) held its annual meeting Thursday, October 24, at The Classic Center to highlight the release of new tourism economic impact figures for Athens-Clarke County and present the annual Athens Hospitality Awards.

In 2018, visitors spent $330.5 million in direct, tourism spending only in Athens-Clarke County. This is a 6.6 % increase from the previous year, according to the 2018 Travel Economic Impact on Georgia State, Counties and Regions study prepared for the Georgia Department of Economic Development by the United States Travel Association. Tourism puts 2,973 people to work in Athens-Clarke County every day. The jobs generated a $69.93 million payroll, as well as $13.71 million in state tax—a 5.8 % increase from the previous year—and $8.89 million in local tax—a 7.3 % increase from the previous year. Total state and local tax of $22.6 million were collected from visitor spending. Each household in Athens-Clarke County would need to be taxed an additional $488 per year to replace the state and local taxes generated by direct, domestic spending alone. Though final numbers for total tourism impacts for 2018 are not yet available, prior years have demonstrated that when domestic and international visitors are included, with direct, indirect and induced impacts, that tax relief figure almost doubles.

“I am gratified at the continued strong growth rate of tourism to Athens-Clarke County,” remarked Chuck Jones, CVB director. “By continuing to invest in promoting Athens as a destination, our community is investing in quality of life for current residents, putting residents to work every day, generating tax revenues to fund essential services, and also drawing interest and investment in new business to keep our economy growing.

The winners of the annual Athens Hospitality Awards were also recognized for their outstanding work effort and for making a positive impact on the Athens-Clarke County visitor experience.

The Partner of the Year Award honors a CVB partner in the local hospitality industry who recognizes the value of working together to achieve greatness. The 2019 Partner of the Year Award was presented to Russel Stalvey, brewery events business manager at Terrapin Beer Company.  Stalvey has been in the events industry for more than 20 years, having worked at The Classic Center, Epting Events and now Terrapin. Stalvey is always available to host the Athens CVB and regional events. He has hosted the Athens CVB advisory board, Historic Heartland Regional Travel Association and the CVB Sales Sports Tourism Meeting. “Russel has created a welcoming space where people want to hang out and no matter where they’re from, feel like they’ve found a home in Athens, Georgia,” says Brian Sykes, vice president of sales and marketing at Terrapin Beer Company.

The Hospitality HEROES (Hospitality Employees Recognition of Excellent Service) of the Year Award recognizes a front-line employee who has exceeded normal expectations to provide excellent service to visitors and residents. The 2019 Hospitality HEROES of the Year award was presented to Valencia Landry, morning server at Hotel Indigo. Landry has been called the epitome of customer service. Her bubbly personality and warm smile make guests feel welcomed and prepared to start their busy day in the Classic City. “Valencia has made so many of our guests’ mornings start off on the right foot,” says Ryan Crenshaw, guest service manager at Hotel Indigo. “It is no surprise that she receives more gifts, more shout-outs and more return guests than anyone else."

The Classic Host Award recognizes a local individual committed to bringing a new convention, meeting or event to the Athens- Clarke County area, generating a significant economic impact. The 2019 Classic Host Award was awarded to Jean Lord, event manager for the Carl Vinson Institute of Government for the University of Georgia. Since her arrival in 2004, Lord has planned various training programs and conferences such as the Georgia Association of Code Enforcement, Georgia Department of Revenue and Georgia Chapter of the American Public Works Association to name a few. “Jean has been instrumental in the planning and coordination of several events in Athens and the meeting facilities,” says Nick Arnold, director of sales for the CVB. “Most recently, she has secured space at The Classic Center for the Current Ad Valorem Edicts and Trends Description (CAVEAT) training conference from 2020 until 2025.” CAVEAT will attract more than 600 tax officials from across the state and generate an estimated economic impact of $415,000 per year during the four-day event.

The Louis Griffith Hospitality Leadership Award honors an outstanding individual in the local hospitality industry who displays foresight and exceptional leadership skills to impact the Athens-Clarke County hospitality industry and the community. This year this prestigious award was presented to Dr. James Mellichamp, president of Piedmont College. Dr. Mellichamp noticed the growth of the hospitality industry and created the Hospitality and Tourism Management program at Piedmont College to meet the demand for future employees. Mellichamp has developed partnerships with The Classic Center, Georgia Club, Levy Restaurants and Hyatt hotels to ensure internships for current students in the program. Dr. Mellichamp’s vision has also led him to meet with donors, raising over $500,000, so far, for current hospitality employees needing financial assistance in the program. “Dr. Mellichamp understands that this industry is broad and ever changing and has a desire to provide for the specific needs of the industry as the venues, real estate and public-private partnerships expand and markets and technology change,” says Paul Cramer, executive director of The Classic Center.

"It is critical that we honor the hard work and level of excellence of employees in this leading local industry," stated Chuck Jones, CVB director. "The exemplary performance of our award winners and the effort put forth by others are a main reason Athens is a destination of choice for many travelers. A first-rate tourism product, coupled with an outstanding workforce, gives us a competitive edge.”