AUSTELL — Top executives in Cobb’s tourism and hospitality industry said Wednesday they have a glass-half-full outlook on 2021 — and hope the glass will soon be running over.
A rebound in tourism is imminent for Cobb County, a three-member panel featuring Holly Quinlan, CEO of Cobb Travel and Tourism; Dale Kaetzel, park president of Six Flags Over Georgia; and Lauren Abernathy, senior marketing director for The Battery Atlanta, told guests at the South Cobb Area Council, a local arm of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce.
After a year of nearly nonexistent revenues for the hospitality industry, Quinlan said the county’s hotel/motel tax collections are “starting to trend in the right direction.”
“There is so much good news right now,” Quinlan said. “Right before this meeting I was at the Cobb Hotel Council … and just the optimism in that room — occupancy is going up, people are starting to travel.”
As Quinlan added, during the height of the pandemic most travelers were booking their trips less than a week in advance. Now, people are making plans months in advance. She also highlighted Mableton’s Town Square, the new Discovery Park at the Riverline, and the Chattahoochee River itself as other attractions for the South Cobb area.
Six Flags, meanwhile, is gearing up for what Kaetzel anticipates will be a very strong summer season. The park will also remain open throughout August, whereas in past years it began to wind down operations when students returned to school.
“One of the things with the pandemic is, we were able to put in a lot of things that are going to be permanent additions to our operation,” Kaetzel said, including touchless metal detectors and an abundance of hand sanitizing stations.
The Battery has managed to attract new business as the Atlanta Braves begin their season and expect to be at full capacity at Truist Park by midsummer. The latest addition at the Battery is Mac McGee’s Irish Pub. The Battery has added over 110,000 square feet of new business space.
“Last Friday was honestly one of my favorite days in the last year, seeing people there for the home opener,” Abernathy said.
The Coca-Cola Roxy has already begun to host shows, and Abernathy called the venue “the test for the entire Live Nation company, and it went great, and they are adding shows right and left.”
In spite of that rosy outlook, problems still remain in returning to normal, the panel said. One of the largest is finding enough staff members to meet the demand for full capacity reopening at restaurants, hotels and venues.
“For every restaurant that could do full service at this point, based on the limitations being lifted, they can’t find the staff. It’s just a tough time to find quality people in large numbers,” Abernathy said.
While health and safety concerns remain Six Flags’ top priority, not far behind is hiring sufficient staff, Kaetzel added. To that end, the park has bumped its pay rates in an effort to attract seasonal employees. Jobs at Six Flags will now pay up to $15 per hour, with jobs at White Water paying up to $13 per hour.
After the event, Chamber Chairman John Loud said he suspects some of those workforce shortages could be arising from the federal aid programs designed to keep Americans at home and financially solvent during the pandemic.
“The other thing is, to be fair to a lot of those workers, when those jobs went away they had to go find a new livelihood. So some of them aren’t coming back.”