The Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) held its annual meeting Thursday, October 8, highlighted by the release of new economic impact figures for Athens-Clarke County and the presentation of the annual Athens Hospitality Awards. 

Visitors to Athens-Clarke County spent $273.40 million in 2014, according to the 2014 Travel Economic Impact on Georgia State, Counties and Regions study prepared for the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) by the United States Travel Association (USTA). Athens Clarke-County visitor expenditures increased 6.6% from 2013 to 2014, exceeding the growth rate of our Historic Heartland travel region (5.1%) and the state (6.1%). Tourism in Athens-Clarke County generated 2,600 jobs with a $54.26 million payroll, as well as $10.22 million in state tax and $7.64 million in local tax collections. Total state and local taxes of $17.86 million were collected from visitor spending, providing $437.00 in tax relief for each Athens-Clarke County household. (Domestic spending only was considered.)

The CVB also presented the annual Athens Hospitality Awards, which recognize the outstanding work of individuals whose efforts have made a positive impact on the Athens-Clarke County visitor experience. 

A new award added this year, 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 person not only understands synergy, but also embodies the hospitality aspect of tourism to its fullest degree.  This position is a shining example to others about how to partner with the CVB.  This 2015 Partner of the Year Award was presented to Tripp Moore of the Best Western Athens. Tripp Moore was literally born into the hotel business having spent his first years of life napping in the front office while his parents Earle and Liz Moore ran the Best Western Athens. Tripp was an outstanding partner this year. As a young hotelier who already has expertise in guest relations, front office systems management, and negotiating skills, Tripp actively asked questions to learn the convention business and worked diligently with the CVB to house student groups this past year. With the opening of the Best Western Plus Athens in 2016, Tripp’s contributions to the family business and to Athens tourism will continue to be important.

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 2015 Hospitality HEROES of the Year award was given to Chelsie Needham of The Place restaurant. Chelsie has worked in the food service industry for the past eight years and won the Athens Banner-Herald’s Reader’s Choice Award for Best Server in 2008.  Chelsie treats every person that walks into The Place like a guest in her home. She genuinely cares about each guests’ experience rather than the tip or the size of their tab. Chelsie has a heart for serving others whether it be locals, students, tourists, or guests in town for a conference!

The Classic Host Award recognizes a local individual or individuals committed to bringing to the Athens-area a new convention, meeting, or event generating a significant economic impact.  The 2015 Classic Host Award was given to Deborah White. Deborah White has devoted her entire life to education and the belief that everyone should be given the opportunity to excel in learning and life. After an extensive career as a teacher, administrator, local curriculum director, state curriculum director, and superintendent of the Banks County School System, Ms. White became the first Executive Director of the Georgia Association of Curriculum and Instructional Supervisors (GACIS) and also works part in time administration with the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders (GAEL). Ms. White is to be commended for her role in bringing GACIS and GAEL to Athens and The Classic Center through 2018.

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 as a whole. The 2015 Louis Griffith Hospitality Leadership Award was presented to Shannon McCullough of The Classic Center. For the past twelve years, Shannon has worked at The Classic Center and currently is the Director of Operations. As a department head at The Classic Center, he serves as a teacher and trainer for his staff and as a natural leader, Shannon exemplifies the values and virtues of the Louis Griffith Hospitality Leadership Award. As one of his peers explained, “Shannon goes above and beyond with each and every guest in the building to ensure they will become raving fans of Athens and The Classic Center.” Another colleague said that Shannon is “one of our community’s best salesmen. Clients feel comfortable bringing their groups here because of their confidence in him and his team. He grows this business primarily because he knows it really does create jobs and make our community a better place to live, work, and play.” One of Shannon’s core passions is workforce development within his own staff and the community. To this end he has served as an instructor and mentor for the Bread for Life Job Skills program, assisted in establishing a statewide summer Hospitality Career Academy for high school students, and developed a two-year Hotel/Restaurant/Tourism Management Degree Program at Athens Technical College, among other community contributions.

"It is critical that we honor the hard work and level of excellence of employees in this leading local industry," remarked 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.” 


About the Athens Convention & Visitors Bureau:  

The Athens Convention & Visitors Bureau is a proactive sales and marketing organization whose primary goal is to increase the economic impact of the hospitality and visitor industry by attracting individual visitors, group tours, and meetings and conventions to Athens. Tourism WORKS for Athens, contributing $273 million in spending, 2,600 jobs and $17.84 million in local and state tax revenue in 2014.