Tourism numbers show Augusta is more than golf

(Featured photo: Bennish Brown, Destination Augusta President/CEO, talks about the economic impact of tourism in Augusta. Dustin Turner/Augusta Good News)

Straw Boss pumped out rock favorites Monday at the Miller Theater as guests mingled and enjoyed refreshments to kick off the annual Experience Augusta Tourism Celebration.

“We are here to keep the momentum going,” Destination Augusta President/CEO Bennish Brown said before the program. “It takes connections like this to feel the energy from each other and keep Augusta going forward into 2024.”

Talk show host and comedian Poncere Daniels served as the Emcee for the celebration.  

“We don’t want to be known for just the Masters. We want people to visit our other impressive piece of infrastructure, the Olive Road Bridge,” she joked. “We want people to know we are as strong as that bridge.”

Bennish Brown and Coco Rubio Monday at the Miller Theatre. Dustin Turner/Augusta Good News

The numbers don’t lie; 2022 was a great year for tourism in Augusta. Meetings and conventions brought in more than 6,000 attendees with a $5.4 million economic impact. The USA Cycling Para and Masters Road National Championship saw 726 athletes and 49 para-athletes compete while having a $1.4 million impact. Other notable events included the Nike Peach Jam (8,500 attendees and $11 million impact); USSSA Military Softball World Series (1,800 participants and $3 million impact); Augusta Air Show (9,500 attendees and $243,000 impact); and Arts in the Heart (100,000 attendees and $1.5 million impact). All of that and more led to a total economic impact of $813 million.

Augusta Sports Council board chairman Charlie Walker explained the council’s role in Augusta tourism.

 “We make sure that the other 51 weeks in Augusta are as important as the first week of April,” he said.

Michelle Pippin, the CEO of Augusta Sports Council, outlined the individual economic impact of events such as the Peach Jam and IronMan.

“When sporting events like these come to town, there’s so more than just the economic impact and the numbers you see. It’s knowing that 242 police officers were on special tour; a local NJROTC group volunteered at a local event and received a grant; a resident who saw a para-athlete cross the finish line was inspired to go do her first Ironman in her hometown,” she said. “Year to date, we have awarded $32,000 in sports development funding to local groups to promote their events.”

Looking forward, Pippin said, the new James Brown Arena has allowed the Council to submit bids for NCAA championship games in 2026. The Augusta Sports Council is already planning for 2026 to help Augusta reap the benefits of the FIFA World Cup in Atlanta.

Destination Augusta President/CEO Bennish Brown is enthusiastic about tourism in Augusta. 

“Even with some of the hurdles we face, I love this industry, and I feel great about the tourism industry in Augusta. Our vision is that Augusta is a thriving community for residents. Effective partnerships lead to community vitality. Community vitality leads to visitors.”

Straw Boss played Monday, Nov. 13. Dustin Turner/Augusta Good News

Brown pointed out that visitor spending in Augusta has doubled in the past decade. In 2013, tourism had a $480 million impact. 2022 saw visitors spend more than $813 million.

“I have an amen moment,” he said. “I firmly believe that in the next couple of years, tourism will be a $1 billion industry. Can I get an amen?” he asked, to which the audience responded enthusiastically.

Individuals and groups who have gone above and beyond to strengthen Augusta’s tourism and hospitality industry were honored with awards: 

  • Ella Mae Mays (Hilton Garden Inn) – Masters of Hospitality Award
  • Michael Wolff – President’s Award
  • Coco Rubio – Community Spirit Award
  • Mark Crump – Film Augusta Partner of the Year
  • Phinizy Center & Nature Park – Partner of the Year Award
  • Augusta City Enterprises was recognized for its work in beautifying downtown Augusta.

Dustin Turner is a freelance writer for Augusta Magazine, Augusta Business Daily and Augusta Good News. He is the marketing director of Aiken Community Theatre. Subscribe to the Augusta Good News’ newsletter here.

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