News 12 at 6 o'clock / Thursday, Sept. 1, 2011
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Every April during the Masters, Augusta proves it can handle big crowds. In the next month, Augusta will not just be a travel stop; it's a destination.
The end of the summer does not mean the end of event season in Augusta. Peggy Seigler, vice president of Marketing and Communications with the Augusta Convention and Visitor's Bureau, says they are preparing for a very busy September.
"When people come to Augusta as a destination, they spend money ... and then they leave!" Seigler said. "It's great for the economy, it's great for our shops and restaurants. It is good for Augusta when people come to visit."
She says this Labor Day weekend, Augusta will blossom into a hub for family reunions and weddings.
"On average someone will spend almost $266 every day when they come to Augusta to attend a conference, or even a family will spend that when they come for a reunion."
After the holiday, she points out, it's all about arts and sports, such as the second annual ESi Ironman 70.3 Augusta.
"Each athlete brings about two people with them, so conservatively we'd say anywhere from 6 to 7,000 people will come to Augusta for the weekend," said Brinsley Thigpen, CEO of the Augusta Sports Council. "Which will drive an economic impact, we're estimating, of over $4 million. For one weekend for this event."
Seigler herself is training with a three-person team for the Ironman. She's taking on the cycling portion of the race.
"You think, oh she's a local. That's not adding to the economy," she said. "Well, let me tell you. I bought a bike locally. I bought all sorts of gear! But also, my family's coming in from out of town to support me for that event."
And they'll all need food, entertainment, hotels and gas, supporting businesses that are counting on a profitable month.
"It is huge," Thigpen said. "And to have people come here during a tough time in the economy and spend money during this sporting event is very exciting. It's very exciting! It's the world's largest Ironman."
They hope all visitors in town know they are welcome to Augusta.
Seigler said one of the best ways to measure tourism is the hotel/motel tax. In the last five years, when a lot of cities have been struggling, Seigler says Augusta's indicator numbers continue to grow.