The annual retreat of the Thomson-McDuffie Tourism Board featured a special guest with a bird's eye view of the industry - Janis Cannon, deputy commissioner of tourism for the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
"We were real fortunate to have her as our guest," said Gerald Baygents, director of tourism.
"This is our fourth year to have a retreat, and it's the best one yet."
Ms. Cannon, who was joined by Jeannie Buttrum, regional representative of GDED, has been credited with changing the definition of tourism in Georgia. She spoke on the importance of the industry which brings in $25 billion in revenue to the state, and provides 209,500 jobs.
In McDuffie County, tourism brings in $170,000 in hotel and motel tax.
Georgia's tourism effort is moving forward, she said, and the state is prepared to take sixth place in the nation in revenue from tourism.
She said vacationers want "authentic experiences," which McDuffie County has in abundance: hunting, fishing, golfing, history and events. In addition, travelers are seeking "edutainment," which is an experience that is both educational and entertaining such as that offered by local organizations specializing in wine making, gardening, and heritage preservation.
Tourists spend an average of $74 per day, and $154 for overnight visits.
Ms. Cannon discussed the importance of tourism, which creates jobs and enhances quality of life, and said she hoped McDuffie County is able to preserve its heritage, quality of life, and land.
In small group sessions, topics included fishing, the recreation department, Pine Top Farm, the airport, golf, the Blind Willie Festival, the box factory facilities, the museum, and tours of historic properties.
Fishing is big business in the county, and members discussed ways to partner with nearby counties in a mutually beneficial collaboration to bring in even more business.
"We are looking at more inter-county partnerships, especially with Columbia County," Mr. Baygents said.
A new gym at Sweetwater Park is expected to bring in youth tournaments which will impact the motels in McDuffie County as well as Columbia.
Glenn Wilson of Pine Top Farm discussed some possibilities for future events including a "Dude Ranch" weekend. In addition, officials from The University of Georgia equestrian team plan to visit the farm to review it as a site for future events.
Also, Pine Top has the possibility of serving as a site for Agritourism with school groups visiting the farm.
The Tourism Board discussed the possibility of an air show in May, some future golf tournaments, and an expanded Blind Willie music festival.
In addition, the Board will explore the possibility of arranging a package tour of historic sites in the county such as the Rock House, Wrightsboro Church, Bowdre-Rees-Knox House, Hickory Hill, Watson Brown House and Bowden Johnson House.