Jekyll Island Convention Center on Jekyll Island, Georgia. Photo courtesy of Jekyll Island Authority
Meetings Matter in Georgia
Local economies thrive because of professional meetings and events held throughout the state.
Meetings are a key driver of Georgia’s economy and workforce, playing a vital role in fueling other industries. According to the most recent data from Longwoods International and Tourism Economics, in 2021, professional meetings attracted 5.5 million overnight domestic travelers to Georgia and drove $2.6 billion in business travel spending statewide. That spending directly supports thousands of jobs and helps power small and local businesses throughout Georgia.
From Athens to Dunwoody, Augusta to Jekyll Island and communities in between, Georgia’s hospitable environment for travelers and businesses helps professionals realize outsized results from meetings and events they attend in the state. When people meet in Georgia, not only are they well-positioned for networking, professional development and collaboration inside the conference room, but they are within minutes of the best scenery, cultural attractions, culinary experiences and outdoor activities the state has to offer before, after and in between deals.
Industries and interest groups of all kinds find welcoming and helpful meeting hosts in communities large and small throughout Georgia. Below are a few examples of communities where meetings have made a difference in Georgia’s economy in the last year.
When people attend meetings or conferences at The Classic Center in Athens, they are in the midst of the excitement of downtown restaurants, shops and hotels. The Classic Center hosts more than 700 events annually, adding 80,000 room nights to local hotels and an estimated $46 million of economic impact to Athens-Clarke County.
During summer, the community depends on meetings like the Georgia Association for Career & Technical Education’s (ACTE) Summer Leadership Conference, which brings in 1,300 attendees and an estimated $1.3 million in economic impact. And, as a professional organization for career technical agriculture education teachers, Georgia ACTE depends on in-person events to help members build skills to provide relevant and innovative instruction. “We have discovered that we can meet virtually occasionally, but we know that the human connection is essential for us to continue to meet the educational needs of our students,” says Jody Reeves, executive director for Georgia ACTE.
Georgia ACTE selected Athens, home of the University of Georgia, for its annual conference so that members, many of whom travel from rural communities, can take advantage of all the cultural, culinary and family-friendly experiences in the town. “We believe that the location is as much a part of the attendee experience as the content,” Reeves says. “Many bring their families so they can take a walk down memory lane of their own college experience or they want to expose their children to a college town. We encourage our members to take advantage of all that Athens has to offer in the way of culture, food, and experiences.”
Building on the successful history of hosting a wide variety of events and meetings in Athens, The Classic Center has broken ground on construction of The Classic Center Arena. The venue with capacity for 8,500 people is scheduled to open in early 2024 and can transform for any occasion from concerts and sports tournaments to banquets and general sessions.
In Augusta, the meetings and groups segment of travel accounts for nearly 30 percent of overnight stays. And recently, the economic impact of business travel spending in Augusta increased nearly 70 percent from $30.9 million in 2021 to an impressive $52.4 million in 2022.
Meetings like TechNet Augusta, hosted by AFCEA International and supported by the Augusta-Fort Gordon Chapter, are essential in stimulating the local economy and bringing in new visitors who stay in the city’s hotels, eat in local restaurants and shop in local stores. The week-long conference draws 5,000 attendees, and this year, it is estimated to generate $4.2 million in economic impact.
The conference is a chance for military, government, academic and industry experts to share the latest insights and solutions for cyber security. “It's important for national and global security that leaders have access to the correct IT, cyber and technological resources and solutions,” says Sandra Jontz, a spokesperson for AFCEA International. “Relationship building, particularly face-to-face networking and discussions, provides the needed deep dive into the pressing issues our leaders face.”
TechNet Augusta’s location near Fort Gordon, home of the Cyber Center of Excellence and Army Cyber Command, makes attending the conference convenient and appealing for U.S. Army leaders and military leaders from around the country. “The community is the focal point for multipronged efforts to integrate and conduct cyberspace, electronic warfare and information operations,” Jontz says. “These and other factors make Augusta the perfect ‘home base’ for AFCEA to present TechNet Augusta 2023.”
To accommodate more visitors downtown near the Augusta Convention Center, an Embassy Suites is slated for groundbreaking this year with completion expected in 2025. The $40 million hotel is expected to add nearly 200 rooms in the city’s Broad Street Corridor.
This spring, Dunwoody, located just a few miles north of Atlanta, hosted the American Daffodil Society National Convention, a three-day event that attracted more than 1,000 attendees and more than $214,000 in visitor spending to the city. This boost in visitation and spending for Dunwoody creates jobs, drives revenue and enhances the local business environment by attracting new businesses and investments to the area, further stimulating economic growth.
The event was held in conjunction with the society’s annual daffodil show, for which participants attend in person to present their flowers for judging. The winner of this year’s show traveled from California, and other attendees came from across the United States as well as other countries. “Many of our members came initially for the daffodils, but now they come for the people,” says Jaydee Ager, event organizer. “Everyone was thrilled to see everyone again.”
Discover Dunwoody offered resources to help the organization plan the event, including posting street pole banners to promote the daffodil show to the public, providing staff to judge the flower competition, and even getting the mayor to greet attendees and present awards. Showing attendees how much they are appreciated can translate into extended stays with additional spending on lodging, dining, transportation and attractions, as well as repeat visitation for business and leisure. “We were very proud and pleased with the event, and all of the people were thrilled,” Ager says. “We just felt like we were very fortunate to cross paths with those good people [at Discover Dunwoody].”
The conference location in Dunwoody was ideal for the group because it was easy for attendees to get to and from the Atlanta airport, as well as to one of the group’s outings to Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground, Georgia. Conference speakers included representatives from the Cherokee Garden Library at the Atlanta History Center and Hills and Dales Estate. “We wanted [attendees] to keep Georgia on their minds,” Ager says.
On Jekyll Island, the convention center welcomed nearly 50,000 attendees in 2022, generating approximately $9 million in hotel revenue through room nights on the island. Meetings and conventions help drive tourism into the Jekyll Island community and contribute to the island’s year-round economic success.
The Georgia Association of Education Leaders’ (GAEL) Summer Conference, for example, has been held on Jekyll Island every year since 1974 (except 2020 because of COVID-19). The event drew 1,500 attendees and generated more than $310,000 in hotel revenue in 2022. “Networking and tradition are a big piece of our organization and our structure,” says Dusty Smith, chief operating officer for GAEL. “We even have members who remember coming to Jekyll as children with their grandparents who brought their families for the event.”
Conference participants tend to turn their trip into a summer family event, enjoying the island’s restaurants and wide range of amenities, including 10 miles of beaches, four golf courses, tennis courts, 22 miles of bike paths, unique shopping opportunities, touring the National Historic Landmark District, Georgia Sea Turtle Center and more. The weekend before the conference includes golf and tennis tournaments for those who want to come early, and an evening at Summer Waves Water Park for attendees and their families, complete with fireworks. “Our summer conference offers a chance for our members to be together and get geared up for the new school year,” Smith says.
With the Jekyll Island Convention Center and hotels with meeting space, the island has experienced a robust return to meetings in the last two years and continues to be a destination of choice for meeting planners across a variety of industries.
The economic impact of meetings in Georgia is considerable, and each successful meeting that builds connections between individuals, businesses and communities lays the groundwork for continued success for all in the future. As professional events continue to have undeniable benefits for organizations and businesses, Georgia will be poised to host meetings that matter and drive positive results for all.