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Macon tourism industry sees slow rebound from COVID-19 lockdown

Visit Macon says it may be 2023 until Macon sees the tourism numbers the city saw in 2019

MACON, Ga. — The COVID-19 lockdown decimated the travel industry and some Central Georgia attractions are now trying to get back on their feet.

Gary Wheat, CEO and president at Visit Macon, says it may be 2023 until Macon sees tourism numbers like 2019's.

Some attractions in town say they've taken a revenue hit from COVID-19, like the Hay House.

They were closed from mid-March to July 7 where they had no guests, so no revenue. Even though they're back open now, they're still struggling. 

Director Ennis Willis says their guest count is down by 51% compared to last year since re-opening in July. Just this past Sunday, they had no visitors. 

"We were hoping by now with cooler weather, we were hoping we would see numbers try to pick up. We're just not seeing it," Willis said. 

Down the road at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, director Jim McLendon says business has gradually picked up over the last few months with admissions and people renting out the space, but it isn't like what they've come to expect this time of year, even with tours.

"Most of our tours are done by high schools throughout the state of Georgia," McLendon said. "As you know, schools are having a hard enough time with their regular curriculum. They just don't have the extra resources right now to send tour groups."

The county's hotel-motel tax revenue reflects the decreased tourism as well. The tax revenue took a major hit early in the pandemic, but is now slowly returning. 

"We're starting to see a 10% jump each month in those revenues," Wheat said. 

Willis says this isn't just affecting the attractions in town -- it's affecting all business. 

"85-90% of our visitors at the house are from out of town, so they're here spending money in all sorts of places. Hotels, restaurants, other museums, other attractions around town, so it has a tremendous impact on everybody," Willis said. 

All three say the most helpful thing for people to do is take advantage of what Macon has to offer and support local businesses.

"Even if you came here to the sports hall of fame a year ago, a lot has changed," McLendon said. 

Willis and McLendon say they're hopeful the tourism industry will pick up by 2021. Many of the attractions in town are already planning programming and events for the rest of this year and into next year.

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