Augusta Business Daily

Mon, September 25, 2023

Georgia/Carolina hospitality experts optimistic about the future of the tourism industry

Business is starting to come back at the Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center (photo courtesy

Local hotels are seeing a rebound and steady increase in business over last year. That’s been the case for the Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center in downtown Augusta, according to Darryl Leech, the hotel’s vice president and general manager. “We have seen a nice uptick in transient business and conventions are starting to rebook,” says Leech.

Leech doesn’t disclose occupancy rates for competitive reasons, but that transient business for Augusta area hotels for the 2021 Masters Week– was stronger than expected.  “The average occupancy rate for this year’s tournament week was 76%,” says Augusta’s Bennish Brown, president and chief executive officer of the Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau 2021—who receives hotel\motel tax money to market Augusta outside of the CSRA.

“Some individual properties may have been higher, and some may have been lower,” he added.

The tourism industry will not only rebound but experience unprecedented growth in the future because many people are tired of staying home, according to Dr. Rich Harrill, professor and director of the International Tourism Research Institute at the University of South Carolina.

“It’s going to take some time,” says Harrill. “People are going to travel as soon as they believe it’s safe.”

He says safety will be an essential element in the industry’s recovery process, and both tourists and industry leaders play an important role in ensuring safe travel for everyone. “They need to follow rules, guidelines, and protocols,” Harrill explains. “It’s not a time to get complacent.”

While many have already been vaccinated against COVID-19, he says tourists need to continue to wear masks and follow the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding social distancing. For cities and tourist attractions, that means enforcing these measures, which lets tourists know “We’re a great place to visit. We’re trying to protect you, the visitor,” Harrill says.

University of South Carolina Ph.D. hospitality management student Hyunsu (Henry) Kim is leading a study that could provide practical strategies for the tourism industry as it works to recover from the impact of the pandemic.

With help from a $5,000 university grant, his research aims to provide tourism professionals with applicable knowledge and tools to rebuild destination economies while addressing the needs and concerns of travelers.

The grant will fund Kim’s research on post-disaster recovery strategies in tourism destinations and will be used for data collection needed to develop models for tourism crisis response. He hopes the results will bridge the gap between theory and practice, providing a framework for tourism industry professionals.

“I’m excited about this work because it is an opportunity to make a real difference,” says Kim. “I want to help people and communities get back to normal.”

Darryl Leech, who’s run the iconic Riverwalk hotel in downtown Augusta for almost 30 years, feels the same.

“We are very optimistic about the future of our industry coming back.”

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