Country singer Jamey Johnson clearly had Macon, Georgia, on his mind eight years ago when he recorded and released “Macon.”
“I gotta get back to Macon,” he sang, ending the chorus with “Look out, Macon, here I come.”
That’s a hook that local tourism and convention leaders like to hear, particularly from meeting planners who are looking to do business with the central Georgia city.
Over the past couple of years, Macon has ramped up its marketing efforts to lure more meetings, conventions and visitors while also revitalizing downtown to make it a key selling point.
The most visible change came last September when the Macon-Bibb County CVB rebranded to “Visit Macon.”
“We changed it to bring it more in line with industry standards,” says Visit Macon President and CEO Gary Wheat, who took the helm of the CVB in January 2017. “Plus, it is an easier call to action and engagement for the consumer.”
The work has been paying off. Room nights have increased, which is reflected in higher hotel/motel tax collections. With roughly 5,500 hotel rooms, occupancy is about 64 percent on average, according to Wheat.
“Over the past two years, we’re at about eight percent growth in occupancy,” Wheat says. “Last year was a record year for collections; 2018 is trending to be another record year.”
Centreplex and the 102,000-sq.-ft. Edgar H. Wilson Convention Center serve as the focal point for Macon’s meeting business, across the river from downtown. A 220-room Marriott is connected to Centreplex.
“For overflow, we don’t have that downtown hotel,” Wheat said.
That is changing. Four years ago, Toronto businessman Rupinder Sangha bought the vacant Ramada Plaza and now is renovating the 297-room hotel. Sangha plans to reopen with a Wyndham flag next year.
Beyond the name change, Visit Macon has focused primarily on the state market for meetings. “We worked very hard on ensuring that we maintain the state presence,” Wheat says.
That has meant attracting meetings and events that had been held elsewhere in the state. The Georgia Library Association recently selected Macon for its annual meeting next year and again in 2020.
Late last spring, Macon hosted the Georgia Society of Association Executives’ milestone 100th annual meeting. The association hadn’t held its annual meeting in Macon since the 1990s.
Another approach to attracting more meetings capitalizes on two daily flights to Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport that Contour Airlines added last year.
Wheat says the goal is to convince contractors with the federal government and nearby Robins Air Force Base to shift their meetings to Macon.