Hospitality and tourism are a major economic driver in Georgia, and the University of Georgia is working in several key areas to support and expand that industry.
In 2021, nearly 200 million visitors to Georgia produced $34.4 billion in direct visitor spending. Those visits generated more than $4 billion in state and local tax revenues, and created a total economic impact of $64.5 billion, according to state data. The hospitality and tourism industry is Georgia’s second-largest economic contributor (after agriculture) and employs more than 400,000 residents.
“As the tourism division of the Georgia Department of Economic Development continues to help grow visitation to Georgia, industry will need more of the skilled hospitality labor that UGA creates through its talent pipeline and opportunities for career development,” said Mark Jaronski, chief marketing officer for the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
Jaronski, other industry leaders, business owners and experts from UGA recently participated in the second annual Georgia Hospitality & Tourism Summit at the University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education & Hotel. The event, which coincided with National Travel and Tourism Week, was presented by the UGA HOST (Hospitality and Tourism) Research Initiative and funded by the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
As the hospitality and tourism industry in Georgia rebounds to pre-pandemic levels, labor challenges will increase, and UGA is well-positioned to provide workforce solutions, grow opportunities in this field and provide cutting-edge research.
The Georgia Center is a key player. The UGA Public Service and Outreach unit is a showcase for best practices in hospitality and tourism, but it also plays a key role in workforce development.
The Georgia Center collaborates with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences for the bachelor’s degree program in hospitality and food industry management, serving as a working laboratory opportunity for students in the major. The program prepares students for jobs in hotels and resorts, restaurants, meeting and event management, club management, agritourism and other related fields.
“Students are able to work not only in our physical spaces but also with our datasets, both in classroom exercises or internship experiences,” said Georgia Center Director Stacy Jones. “We’re then able to help students practice what they’re learning in a classroom through experiential learning opportunities that then may translate into additional internships prior to entering the full-time workforce.
The UGA Institute of Government is renowned for its workforce development initiatives and has added a tourism component to its training with the Destination Leadership program. Created in partnership with the Georgia Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus, the program offers tourism education and training for city and county elected officials and staff.
Participants look at ways to maximize tourism’s impact in their economic development strategy, and experts share best practices regarding funding of and partnership with tourism organizations.
“Communities benefit when stakeholders collaborate to leverage opportunities and relationships,” said Jennifer Nelson, public service faculty at the Institute of Government. “Participants will explore how to maximize tourism’s impact in their economic development strategy.”
Georgia also has much to offer in terms of natural resources that draw tourists. UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant helps ensure tourism dollars continue to flow by working with restaurants to promote food safety, and through its conservation efforts to preserve the natural habitat of the state’s coastline, one of the most pristine and natural coastlines on the Atlantic.
“The Georgia coast was the original ecotourism destination in the United States and shaped the coast we have today,” said Bryan Fluech, Marine Extension associate director.
In addition, UGA is working in collaboration across campus through the HOST Research Initiative. The interdisciplinary team of faculty and staff from UGA Public Service and Outreach, UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, and the UGA College of Environment and Design creates a research agenda that supports PSO, UGA Extension, and the Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, and will enhance and enrich the ongoing community public engagement and research efforts of UGA. Hospitality and food industry management faculty members who are part of the HOST initiative coordinated and invited speakers for the recent hospitality and tourism summit.
“This collaborative research group is an opportunity for us as a provider of hospitality services in the Athens market to be engaged in research that can benefit the entire state,” Jones said. “Beyond that, the initiative works across multiple locations on campus in the hopes that we can find the most important areas to study and research to have a greater impact throughout Georgia.”