Metro Atlanta is a leader on the national stage in its growth in tourism and Cobb County continues to be a big-time player in helping guide that charge to bring more people to this area. One of the local driving forces behind this effort is Cobb Travel & Tourism, the destination marketing organization for Cobb. “Our goal is to drive people to visit and stay, offering a positive experience that will make them want to come back,” says Holly Bass, Cobb Travel & Tourism’s chief executive officer. “Tourism is the welcome mat and front door to our community. Cobb Travel & Tourism serves as Cobb’s insider’s guide, bringing people together and utilizing many different resources to market Cobb as a 365-day destination.”
In 2014, Cobb’s economic impact was about $2.5 billion as a result of travel and tourism, and some of the game-changers in that effort were Six Flags Over Georgia, Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, the Cobb Galleria Centre and Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, as well as the downtown communities. Cobb Travel & Tourism, which was started in 1991, represents all of the hospitality community within Cobb, working closely with cities, hotels, restaurants and attractions like the ones above, bringing everybody together to represent all the tourism aspects of the community.
A majority, or 92 percent, of the organization’s annual $1.3 million budget is funded by the Hotel Motel Tax, which is collected through the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority. The other 8 percent, Bass says, is raised through partnerships between the organization and community businesses or leaders. Jim Pehrson, Cobb County’s director of finance and economic development, says the Hotel Motel Tax is an excise tax on rooms, lodging and accommodations. Cobb and five of the county’s six cities—Powder Springs does not collect the tax—are authorized to gather the Hotel Motel Tax. The tax percentage in Cobb is 8 percent.
In the last five years, Cobb has accumulated a total of nearly $54 million through collections: 2014, $12.3 million; 2013, $11.2 million; 2012, $10.4 million; 2011, $9.9 million; and 2010, $9.5 million. That funding is required by law to be used to promote tourism, conventions and trade shows. Pehrson says that this is defined as planning, conducting or participating in programs of information and publicity designed to attract or advertise tourism, conventions or trade shows. Additionally, of the taxes collected, Pehrson says that about 62.5 percent goes to the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority, and the remaining 37.5 percent pays the debt service on the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, general parks and tourism.
Among the Best
Bass says Six Flags Over Georgia continues to be Cobb’s No. 1 tourist attraction, followed closely by White Water, the Cobb Galleria Centre the Cobb Performing Arts Centre, the Earl Smith Strand Theatre on the Marietta Square and thriving downtown areas like in Acworth and Smyrna. “Cobb County is incredibly fortunate to have many different assets,” Bass says. “All of that goes toward the 31,000 jobs created as a result of tourism.” And while a tourist is technically defined by someone who travels more than 50 miles to a destination, Bass encourages locals to be tourists in their own backyards, and when family or friends come into town, don’t be afraid to take them to visit Cobb’s unique locations.
As far as the future of tourism in Cobb, Bass adds that it should continue to grow with the development of LakePoint Sports complex just outside Cobb’s northern boundary, the introduction of college football at Kennesaw State University and opening day for the new Atlanta Braves development in 2017, which Cobb Travel & Tourism is working closely with. “SunTrust Park is such a huge win for Cobb County… We anticipate the hospitality community will experience a big boost in their business,” Bass says. “It’s a great game-changer for us—it’s a perfect fit with our mission and how we market Cobb and what they are doing.”
Creating Quality Stays
As far as what this tax means to the hotel motel business, Joel Darr, general manager at Atlanta Marriott Northwest at Galleria off Interstate North Parkway in the Cumberland area, says it’s helpful and driving business to their market. “Our travelers are excited about the new developments in our backyard. We have national and regional groups that are now considering us for future sites of their conferences solely because of the Braves development and their accessibility to it while hosting our event at our property,” he adds. “We have also noticed a significant increase in new companies moving to our area and existing companies with plans for expansion, all which will drive additional travelers to our market.”
Atlanta Marriott Northwest, which was recently renovated, features 400 guest rooms, 18,000 square feet of convention and event space, two on-site restaurants and an indoor/outdoor pool. “We host numerous special events and conventions each year, including Lockheed Martin’s P3 Conference and World Series of Rugby Women 7’s,” says Darr, who has worked with Marriott since 1986.
When asked if the tax has impacted whether patrons stay there, Darr says no because these types of taxes and fees are very common in most markets. He adds that it’s still a little too early to see how the tax has impacted Atlanta Marriott Northwest, but that his staff is working very closely with their transient and group guests to ensure they fully understand the tax. “So far, our guests have been very understanding and all are excited about the opportunity to have such and amazing facility so close the Atlanta Marriott North West,” he says.
So, whether you have family or friends in town or are simply looking for something that you can do on the weekend, or even one evening during the week, know that Cobb is a top-notch tourist spot with tons of things to enjoy, in addition to several great hotels and motels to stay in that, in the long run, benefit all the good things in our area.