MACON, Ga. (November 9, 2023) — Karla Redding-Andrews, Vice-President & Executive Director of the Otis Redding Foundation; Janice Hedglin, General Manager of Just Tap’d; Stacy Moore, President & CEO of Macon, Georgia’s International Cherry Blossom Festival; and Alex Morrison, Director of Planning and Public Spaces for Macon-Bibb County and Executive Director at Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority are announced as the 2023 recipients of the Visit Macon “Tourism Awards” of Macon, Georgia.
The 41st anniversary Annual Celebration & Awards Ceremony took place on Wednesday, November 8th at The Society Garden in historic Ingleside Village of Macon.
“2023 was a record-setting year for earned media coverage with stories appearing on CBS Mornings, in The New York Times as one of 52 Places for Travelers to Visit in 2023, Bloomberg, Conde’ Nast Traveler, Forbes, Frommer’s, Garden & Gun, Insider, Men’s Journal, Southern Living, Travel + Leisure and featured on the cover of Vintage Rock Magazine,” says Aaron Buzza, Senior Vice President & Chief Operating Officer of Visit Macon. “Visit Macon’s President and CEO Gary Wheat was awarded Georgia Convention & Visitors Bureau (GACVB)’s Larry Allen Tourism Leadership Award, the Ocmulgee National Park and Preserve Initiative won GACVB’s Paul Nelson Award for Outdoor Recreation and Preservation, Macon’s “Christmas Lights Extravaganza” earned the 2023 GACVB Travelblazer Award winner, and Visit Macon was awarded a DMAP Certification “With Distinction” from Destinations International! As far as the tourism industry is concerned, this is an outstanding display of the recognitions and accolades piling up for everything that this organization has been working tirelessly to achieve. We could not be more thrilled!”
In 2022, Macon+Bibb’s hotel-motel tax collections exceeded $6 million for the first time ever and the tourism industry is proud to announce:
- Over $6 million in sales tax revenue was generated for Macon-Bibb County
- $448.8 million in total visitor spending – up 21.7% in 2022
- Visitor spending has increased by over $53 million since 2018
- Visitors generated $34.4 million in state and local taxes in 2022
- $585 in tax savings for every Macon-Bibb household due to visitor spending
"And we’re just getting started!” quips Gary Wheat, President and CEO of Visit Macon. “With the anticipation that Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park will become Georgia’s first (and the nation’s 64th) National Park in 2024, a new, state-of-the-art 10,000+ seat amphitheater, and completion of the world’s largest indoor pickleball facility… Macon has the potential to transform into one of the top tourism destinations in the United States!”
The (4) tourism awards honoring these leaders in tourism advocacy include the Otis Hughes Tourism Spirit Award, the B.J. Cain Top-of-the-Line Award, the Steven Fulbright Soul of Macon Award and – the newest addition to the distinctions –.the Macon Partner of the Year Award.
The B. J. Cain Top of the Line Award recognizes someone who works directly with visitors at an attraction, restaurant or hotel; has been employed there for a minimum of six months; goes above and beyond the call of duty to provide exemplary experiences for guests and visitors; and maintains a professional attitude and appearance at all times.
Janice Hedglin, General Manager of Just Tap’d, “wears her love for Macon on her sleeve. Her love for the community and her positive attitude are infectious, and even when her business is busy or challenges come up, you never see a change in her attitude and approach. That huge smile never fades. Watching our winner interact with her customers and her team, you can see how much she values treating everyone with respect and kindness. The training she has done is obviously extensive, and even when she’s not at the business, you see her influence. Everyone on her team treats customers extremely well and takes time to ensure that people are having an outstanding experience,” explained award presenter Justin Andrews at last night’s celebration. Justin is Director of Special Projects and Outreach at the Otis Redding Foundation & a serving Board Member for Visit Macon.
The Otis Hughes Tourism Spirit Award is given each year to someone in the Macon-Bibb community who has contributed significantly to Macon’s tourism industry and product; and has given unending time, talent and skill to support Macon’s tourism industry and the growth of the industry.
Chairman of the Visit Macon Board of Directors, Patty Gibbs said,“The 2023 award winner leads an organization whose name represents an immediate draw to Macon for people all over the world. People visit Macon, often just to meet her first and then experience the rest of the community after. She oversees an amazingly successful non-profit organization that serves not just as a tourism draw, but one that contributes to the community through education and support for area youth. The hard work, leadership, philanthropic approach and vision shown by our winner have lifted Macon’s positive reputation worldwide. Her organization’s programming has expanded over the years, providing signature events that bring performers from across the country. And the visitors have followed. The increase has resulted in additional hotel stays, restaurant visits and a substantial growth in Macon’s profile.”
Karla Redding-Andrews is actively involved in the Macon community, as well. She has served as a board member for everything from the Cherry Blossom Festival to Central Georgia Technical College, and she has been recognized for her contributions through awards from the Macon Arts Alliance and the Women’s International Music Network.
“The impact of our winner’s organization and her vision and leadership is only growing, too. The construction of a new Center for the Arts will bring an even greater international focus to Macon and the amazing work being done by the Otis Redding Foundation.”
The newest award, the Macon Partner of the Year Award, recognizes those who contribute to the tourism product in Macon in significant ways. Those can be organizations and people who we work with, sometimes daily, whose efforts make it easier for Visit Macon to bring visitors – and the economic impact those visitors bring – to our community.
According to Gary Wheat of Visit Macon,“The vision of this award winner has seen an event grow, not just in its Macon footprint, but in its geographic reach and economic impact. The leadership she brings allows for an event to touch people of different backgrounds, who speak different languages, and bring them to celebrate love, beauty and international friendship.” Stacy Moore, has led The Pinkest Party on Earth to being showcased internationally through appearances on The Weather Channel, and shows like Carnival Eats and Critter Fixers, and those appearances have led to numerous record-breaking years of attendance since 2019. In 2023, The International Cherry Blossom Festival saw a $5.5 million economic impact, which grew by more than $2 million over 2022. And the Festival saw visitation from people coming from areas greater than 50 miles grow by more than 21%, which is remarkable.
Mayor Lester Miller then presented Visit Macon’s Steven Fulbright Soul of Macon Award in memory of colleague and friend Steven Fulbright. “This year’s award winner is someone in whom you just see and feel the deep love for, and connection with Macon. He’s one of the busiest people you’ll find, but everything he does is with the goal of advancing the community and building a better place for everyone. And he’s also one of the most creative and passionate people you’ll find.”
Recently highlighted in Georgia Trend, Alex Morrison said that “while it is easy to focus on the Amphitheatre or the Pickleball complex, which are legitimately awesome, audacious projects in their own right, the effort around the mall is so much bigger. It is an investment in an neighborhood where long time homeowners have seen their equity dissipate after decades of disinvestment; a chance to bring new resources, employees and traffic to an area that was once the commercial heart of the region; a place to bring more accessibility and dignity to our early voting process; a single location for permits and licenses nestled within our corridor of education and workforce development; and a chance to bring robust placemaking, recreation, socioeconomic mixing, and jobs back to a place that was once the crown jewel of each in the state. This is a project that will make people proud that have continued to choose Macon and will allow so many more to choose Macon for entertainment, work, education, recreation and above all else as their home.”
About Visit Macon: The mission of Visit Macon is to unify and lead our community in marketing the Macon-Bibb County area as a superior visitor and meeting destination. Visit Macon promotes Macon, Georgia to travel writers, meeting planners, group tour operators, and leisure travelers in an effort to bring people and revenues into the community and area businesses. visitmacon.org