Skip to comments.Georgia aims to bag snowbirds and their cash
Posted on 04/11/2005 11:30:48 AM PDT by -=[_Super_Secret_Agent_]=-
Georgia aims to bag snowbirds and their cash By DAN CHAPMAN Cox News Service Thursday, April 07, 2005
JEKYLL, ISLAND, Ga. It's hunting season along I-95, and Canadian Snowbirds represent this year's prized catch.
Old (mostly) and slow (in a leisurely way), this breed of Canadian tourist is nonetheless hard to capture. They migrate from Florida to Canada each spring, flitting across Georgia for a couple of hours before reaching South Carolina or Tennessee.
And then they're gone until next winter, when they reverse-migrate back to Florida.
Enough, cry Georgia officials. The snowbirds, they insist, must remain in Georgia for a while, a week, a month or a winter.
Armed with a bit of state marketing money and newfound resolve, Georgia economic development officials announced recently that the snowbirds and their pocketbooks sit squarely in their sights. Boosting tourism represents part of the state's multipronged effort to expand trade and investment with Canada.
"We'd like to get them on their way down and on their way back and convince them to hang around here and maybe fall in love with Georgia and stay a little longer," said Sheryl Johnson, who manages the visitors center on I-95 in Kingsland, near the Florida line. "We're just asking them to try Georgia."
Many Georgia-bound snowbirds, so named for their love of warm climes, land on Jekyll Island. The quasi-public barrier island offers three 18-hole golf courses, miles of bike paths, ample fishing and pristine beaches to rival Florida.
But it's not Florida, and that's what matters to the Giards, French Canadians from Ste. Agathe-des-Mont, Quebec. With their 32-foot Fleetwood Flair motor home anchored at the Jekyll Island Campground, the Giards paused between a morning bike ride and a lunchtime picnic of salmon salad sandwiches to extol Jekyll's charms.
"The beaches are beautiful, the big oak trees extraordinary," said Dr. Jacques Giard, 70, a retired surgeon. "I cannot pass by without stopping here. We discussed staying here a few months instead of Florida, which I begin to dislike."
Jekyll, though, could one day succumb to the same development woes traffic, crime, exorbitant prices besetting an increasingly crowded Florida. The Jekyll Island Authority is considering $300 million worth of condos, shops, hotels and homes.
"That would be very sad. Oh, my god," sighed Mary Bray, a 50-year-old writer and therapist from Montreal who abandoned Naples, Fla., this year for a second-floor suite at the Oceanside Inn & Suites on Jekyll. "You can get that [development] anywhere. It would be a real shame if they did something like that here. If they did, I probably wouldn't come."
Luring snowbirds represents a small, albeit potentially lucrative, part of the Georgia Department of Economic Development's Canada strategy. Enticing Canadian businesses more than 100 companies already employ 8,300 Georgians is the state's main goal.
Boosting trade with the neighbor to the north remains a priority. Canada is Georgia's top export destination with $4.2 billion worth of machinery, computers, electronics and paper crossing the border last year.
Bill Dobbs, a state business recruiter, will now spend two weeks a month in Canada, primarily in Ontario, trying to entice biotech, plastics, aerospace and metal-working companies to Georgia. Gov. Sonny Perdue is expected to visit Canada this summer.
Tourism remains the weak link in the state's Canada strategy. Roughly 785,000 Torontonians and Quebecois visited Georgia in 2003, according to the Canadian consulate in Atlanta, but they spent only $71 million.
In Florida that year, 1.7 million Canadian visitors spent $1.4 billion, said Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing agency.
South Carolina, with its beaches and golf courses, welcomed 626,000 Canadians last year. Yet more than half stayed a few days or longer, particularly along the Grand Strand coastal region. The Canadians spent at least $200 million, according to the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.
"They represent two-thirds of all of our foreign visitors," said Marion Edmonds, the department's spokesman. "We get tons of Canadian license tags when spring break rolls around."
For 44 years, the Myrtle Beach area has unfurled the Canadian welcome mat in early or mid-March to coincide with Ontario's school holiday. This year's Canadian-American Days Festival offered parades, dances, a kite-flying festival and a concert with the Waterloo Regional Police Band from Cambridge, Ontario.
Georgia hopes to steal a page, and a few Canadians, from its neighbors to the north and south. The state spent $2,500 to festoon its 11 visitors centers with Canadian flags and decals that read "Georgia Welcomes Our Canadian Neighbors." Goodie bags, filled with maps, lapel pins, peanuts and more, await them.
An additional $17,000 (of a $30,000 Canada-specific budget) will be spent this year as part of a region-wide PR campaign.
Some Jekyll Island proprietors already exhibit Canada fever. Canada Day was celebrated March 4 at the Oceanside Inn, which tallied two dozen long-term Canadian "winter guests" this year. They paraded through the lobby and restaurant waving Maple Leaf flags and singing their country's national anthem. A cocktail party with skits and jokes ensued.
The Days Inn and Villas by the Sea also welcomed Canadians who stayed as long as 90 days. Maybe a quarter of this year's 192 winter guests at the Jekyll campground hailed from Canada, said clerk Laurel Barnes. They paid $400 every 30 days, cheaper than Florida.
The Giards shelled out $28 a day to park at Fort De Soto Park near St. Petersburg (and their bikes were stolen).
John and Helen Garrett visited Key West last year but spent six weeks at the Oceanside Inn this year.
"Florida is too busy, and the prices are extremely high," said Helen, 54, a semiretired nurse from Lynden, Ontario. "It was really laid back in the '70s, and here it still is. In Florida, hardly anybody takes dogs to the beach, whereas here no one seems to mind."
But for how long? The island authority's master plan calls for new hotels and shops near the convention center. The soccer complex/4-H center along a pristine stretch of southern beach could be transformed into a 20-acre residential community. An equestrian center and resort might grace the island's north end.
Public hearings to consider the 15-year development plan will be held in May or June. Bray prays that Jekyll never loses its low-country, low-spark charm.
"There's something sacred, something deep-healing about this place," she said. "It's paradise, like living inside a church. I hope to come here for a very long time."
Dan Chapman writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
sounds like a few "Boss Hogg celebrity speed traps" are gonna start spring up...
If I stand on my roof, I can see Jekyll easily. Please, Lord, no more tourists- we have too many already for this old Island Boy!
If only Texas would post signs along the borders stating no snowbirds or illegals.
They'll just show up, build a house, and then write in to the Islander in a couple of years about how we need to stop development because it's getting crowded! :-)
The first time I seen the ocean was right there at Jekyll Island. I fell in love with Georgia. In fact, we plan to retire in Georgia. We have our sites set on something a bit inland, though. We're afraid of hurricanes.
I can remember the days before the Interstate was complete in GA and Highway 17 was the main road along the coast.
The Interstate only sends people past all the interesting sights to see.
A copy of the transplanted-New-Yorker-in-Vermont playbook.
lol I read the title, and being in arizona cracked up. We think as snowbirds as old people migrating here for the winter.
Highway 17 is the way to travel down the east side of Georgia.
From a distance, I watched Naples go from 25,000 to 250,000.
Repeat your prayer every day.
One of the most beautiful places on Earth is right off the Georgia Coast.
And no, I ain't tellin'.
I'd recommend that the Ga. Patrol corral a few more of the northern invaders to boost monetary coffers instead...
Ow! I last saw Naples im 1955, when it was a sleepy spongefisher town.
From my experience with Canadian drivers in South Florida, speed traps won't do much to catch them. Unless they time them with a calendar.
What is the limit on "Snow Birds", and how does one cook them?
St. Catherine's Island?
Indeed it is.