Georgia Aquarium, courtesy Georgia Dept. of Economic Development
Kevin Langston is a person who seems entirely comfortable enjoying big-city culture or small-town charm. Georgia’s state travel director and incoming chairperson for Travel South USA wants to be sure visitors to his state, including those coming in for Travel South Showcase in February, take the same approach.
“It’s been at least 10 years or more since Travel South was held in Atlanta, and we are very excited about hosting this event because if you haven’t been to downtown Atlanta in the past 10 years or so, you won’t recognize it,” said Langston. “It’s a whole new place.
“Since the Olympics in 1996, Centennial Park has become a magnet for downtown. The World Congress Center is there, the World of Coke, the Aquarium, CNN headquarters, plus lots of restaurants.
“The Georgia Aquarium is working now on a $110 million dolphin exhibit and expansion. This is a very innovative approach — think of it as the aquarium meets ‘Cirque du Soleil.’
“So anyone attending a meeting in the Congress Center, like Travel South Showcase delegates in February, is walking through that area and taking all this in.”
And far from the lights of Atlanta, in distinctive smaller cities, Langston has discovered a side of his state that he’s anxious to share with visitors.
“I’ve had the opportunity to spend time in many of the smaller towns across the state, and we’re in the process of launching a campaign in 2011 to publicize them,” he said. “These places are tremendous hooks for visitation into Georgia, and we’re working them into every aspect of our programming.
“For instance, Senoia, a little community just outside metro Atlanta, is really taking off. It’s just down I-85. The film industry loves this area and, in fact, they’re filming ‘Drop Dead Diva’ there right now — that’s the highest rated show currently on the Lifetime Channel.
“Senoia has coffeehouses, bed-and-breakfasts, restaurants, museums; it’s just a wonderful place to spend a day or weekend.
“There are tons of these places across Georgia. Dublin is another example, right on I-16 between Macon and Savannah. How many people are traveling to Savannah, which is so well known, who could just jump off at the Dublin exit for a day? This downtown is being entirely revitalized.
“One great stop there is the Blackbird Coffee and Cafe. Then there is a guy there who is ex-military and spent a lot of time in Italy, who has moved back and brought a wood oven from Italy over piece by piece to serve wood-fired pizzas.
“These are the kinds of places people love if they know about them.”
The South will be celebrating the Civil War sesquicentennial over the next few years, and Langston said that most of Georgia’s observances are still a couple of years away.
“Most of our Civil War history dates to 1863,” said Langston, “so our primary events will take place in 2013.
“The Battle of Chickamauga will have a major re-enactment, as will Kennesaw Mountain, I believe. Our Civil War sesquicentennial website is up and running at www.gacivilwar.org.
“We’ve published a beautiful travel guide that many tour groups would want to have with them while they’re here. It’s called ‘Crossroads to Conflict’ and includes a lot of commentary that would be useful for groups. Our site also has a map of the state with 78 Civil War sites that can be visited.”
It seems there are many reasons, some as large as Atlanta and others as small as Senoia, for visitors to join Travel South Showcase delegates in coming to Georgia in 2011.