Navid Kapadia of the Forsyth Hotel Group said one problem is that there is nothing open in Forsyth on Monday evenings. When guests check in on Monday and ask hotel staff to recommend a restaurant or entertainment, there is nowhere to send them.
“It makes us look bad if we can’t be as professional as possible and give them information,” said Kapadia. “It costs us when they don’t come back.”
Forsyth Convention & Visitors Bureau hosted a meeting of representatives of the hotels in Forsyth at the La Quinta on May 20 and included downtown merchants and city officials in the group. Forsyth CVB wanted to give hoteliers the chance to talk with the city and merchants about what they offer and opportunities for the hotels, businesses and city to work together to bring more visitors to Forsyth and entice them to stay longer.
Kapadia’s comment opened a dialogue that might benefit hoteliers, businesses and the whole city if they work together to solve the missing piece. He said that regulars at his hotels, such as those in town for training at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center, even pack food from home to carry them through Monday night.
Gilda Stanbery, executive director of the CVB, said that Jonah’s on Johnston is now open on Mondays, and the new Scoops Ice Cream Shop will be open seven days a week. She said she would pass along the concern to other restaurants and business owners in town.
Kapadia said he gets requests for catering suggestions on the weekends but knows of no local caterers to recommend. There are people who plan private parties at the hotels and businesses that plan training and would like food delivered, which is not a service the hotels offer. He does not want to send guests to Macon for food, entertainment or catering because they may decide to stay in hotels in Macon next time.
Stanbery said she would work to connect local businesses with the hotel staff so that both can benefit.
“We have a unique opportunity with 80,000 cars a day on the interstate and 1,200 rooms to stay overnight,” said Forsyth Mayor Eric Wilson. “Hoteliers need to know that places are open when they send people.”
Kapadia said the feedback the hotel gets is that visitors like Forsyth because the people they meet are smiling and happy, but Forsyth needs more to offer visitors. They want something to do in town. He said the hotels would like to have more special things to talk about, like seasonal activities they could encourage visitors not to miss. For example, he has talked with Dickey Peach Farms about sending people to their store during peach season.
“People like to feel special,” agreed Stanbery.
Shauna Bramlett, owner of Hometown Treasures Gift Shop, told how she has taken a suggestion from Stanbery to connect with the hotels and their guests. She made up brochures, like rack cards, promoting her business, offering same day monogramming and 10 percent off any item. She has taken them to two hotels and plans to visit more. In one week she had six cards turned in for the 10 percent discount, telling her that at least that many picked them up at the hotel and came to visit her shop in downtown Forsyth.
“It gives visitors, with money to spend, something to do and brings them into town,” said Stanbery.
She said she knows the space on lobby counters in the hotels is at a premium and appreciates the hoteliers letting her and local merchants use it as much as they can to promote Forsyth. She said she also places brochures at GPSTC because of the many trainees they have each week who are often looking for something to do in the evenings.
Holly White, owner of the Sage & Sparrow Boutique, suggested placing brochures at the customer service desk in Walmart because so many travelers stop at Walmart but never come into Forsyth to find the unique offerings there.
Wilson asked when the most check-ins at the hotels are and was told Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, except for GPSTC trainees who come on Sunday night or Monday morning. A hotelier noted that every place to eat is closed at 10 p.m. except Waffle House. He said he would like restaurants to try staying open until 10:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and see how business is.
Marlies Persinger of Magnolia’s Med Spa said that her business does have a number of patrons who come in the evening. She urged the city and the CVB to keep brochures updated because they often feature businesses that have closed, which is frustrating for potential customers and for other businesses.
Don Daniel asked the hoteliers to give the CVB information on where their guests come from so that CVB can target some markets, for example, if there tend to be guests from Detroit in November. Stanbery said that she had been surprised by some of that type of information that she gathered by visiting the hotels at 6:30 a.m. and chatting with some of the guests. She said many visitors stop in Forsyth after stopping at Georgia’s regional visitors centers in Ringgold and Vidalia. She tries to keep them stocked with information about Forsyth and will include information about Forsyth in their video loops.
During the meeting, Wilson thanked the hoteliers for their investment in the community and updated them on new developments in the city that he felt would be of interest to them and their patrons, including the entertainment district downtown that will let pedestrians carry alcohol, Scoops Ice Cream Shop that opened on the square earlier in the week, plans for the new city hall that include 29 new parking spaces, and work on a master plan for the city’s six parks that includes new features like dog parks, frisbee golf and an amphitheater.
Kerri Swearingen, chair of the CVB board, gave an update on CVB activities, including distributing a new pad map, becoming part of the One Monroe meetings of local leaders, and the Georgia Trust Expedition Tour of Forsyth coming June 8.
Stanbery talked about promoting tourism in Forsyth and Monroe County in various publications, particularly those targeting Atlanta. She said the public art, Forsyth Foxhunt and cemetery tour are three things that give visitors something to do in Forsyth, as well as the ever-popular excursion to Juliette and the Whistle Stop Cafe. She said she wants to put packages together with the hotels, restaurants and merchants that will entice people to come and spend time in Forsyth.
“We don’t have to compete with Atlanta or Savannah; we can do our own thing,” she said. “For example, we are working on religious tour groups. We can have a small group or a thousand.”
Forsyth has 13 hotels plus a KOA Campground. CVB invites the hoteliers to meet together quarterly.