Sandy Springs touts fly fishing on the chilly Chattahoochee River, walking trails that feel like they’re in the mountains, various parks and a museum dedicated to Anne Frank. Dunwoody promises the Dunwoody Nature Center and the Spruill Center for the Arts.
But tourism experts from the two cities say those attractions aren’t the main reasons travelers visit Perimeter area communities.
They come primarily for business travel. Or they visit Perimeter Mall, which draws about 18 million visitors a year to Dunwoody, or “Pill Hill,” the world-class medical center that includes Northside Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Children’s Healthcare.
“Sandy Springs is not necessarily a tourist destination,” said Mayor Rusty Paul. “Our hospitality market is largely business driven.”
Paul and tourism officials from the Perimeter area say they are trying to move beyond business travelers. Sandy Springs offers 18 hotels and Dunwoody has five more, and the message the communities now promote is to try to convince business travelers to “stay an extra day and enjoy the area.”
“Our primary focus is on driving weekend demand,” said Katie Bishop, executive director of the Dunwoody Convention and Visitors’ Bureau. “Our hotels do very well during the week with corporate business and business travel. We see our mission as trying to fill the hotels on the weekend.”
She said that since the bureau was formed in 2009 and started tracking numbers in 2010, weekend hotel occupancy has increased 18 percent. Sandy Springs anticipates $3.6 million in total revenue from the tax in FY2015, while Dunwoody expects $2.3 million. Both have seen increases in the past couple of years.
Bishop says her office uses a three-pronged approach in marketing the city to weekend tourists.
One strategy is a group sales effort that targets associations, faith-based organizations or social events that need weekend space. Another is a marketing strategy focused on positioning Dunwoody as a weekend getaway destination, highlighting dining, shopping, girls’ getaway weekends and shopping packages.
“Atlanta is the draw,” Bishop said, when talking about the third strategy. “We always promote and tie ourselves to Atlanta. Visitors don’t see city lines.” She said Dunwoody is perfect for those who may want to experience what downtown Atlanta has to offer, while staying in a location that can be more affordable, is safe and has free parking.
In Sandy Springs, its Hospitality and Tourism office recently named a new director, Jennifer Cruce, whom Paul calls a “real jewel for the city.” Cruce formerly was a marketing manager for Turner Broadcasting Co.
“I’m very excited to be here,” she said when she was only about five days on the job. “There are new and exciting things happening here, particularly the City Center and Performing Arts Center,” which she added would bring more meeting space to the city that can be leveraged when trying to draw groups into town.
Duwoody’s CVB and Sandy Springs’ Hospitality & Tourism offices exist thanks to each city’s hotel/motel sales tax. By law, a portion of revenue from the tax must support tourism and promotion of the city, while some goes into the cities’ general funds. In Dunwoody, 40 percent goes to the CVB, while 60 percent goes to the general fund. In Sandy Springs, 32 percent goes to the hospitality board, 28.5 percent goes into the city’s general fund, and 39 percent goes to the Georgia World Congress Center. Sandy Springs’ hotel sales tax rate is 7 percent, while Dunwoody’s is 5 percent, the minimum allowed by law.
And both cities say that what works for one is good for the other. It doesn’t hurt Dunwoody that Sandy Springs has Pill Hill, and it doesn’t hurt Sandy Springs that Dunwoody has Perimeter Mall.
Paul said that as the cities are trying to come together to look at how to market the Perimeter area from a business and development point of view, it’s likely they will together look at how to market hospitality and tourism in the area at some point.
“It’s a friendly competition,” Bishop said of Dunwoody and its neighboring cities. “We recognize that none of us can stand on our own. Atlanta’s the draw, but each community around Atlanta has something unique to offer, so we want to work together and promote each other, because what we don’t have Roswell has, what Roswell or Marietta doesn’t have, Dunwoody or Sandy Springs does.”