President & CEO of VisitColumbusGA, Peter Bowden, was among the state’s top tourism professionals recognized at the 2019 Georgia Governor’s Tourism Conference in LaGrange, September 11. Bowden received The Tom Kilgore Lifetime Achievement Award, which is named for Rep. Tom Kilgore of Douglasville, an early tourism champion. This award recognizes an individual who exemplifies outstanding lifetime commitment towards tourism.
As Lisa Love, Explore Georgia’s interim deputy commissioner of tourism, introduced this award, she shared, “Our award winner is well known in the tourism industry and has dedicated much of his career to promoting and growing tourism in his community. Under his leadership, the CVB has seen multiple tourism records with increased visitation, direct spending and economic impact. Everywhere he goes he is an advocate for his community.”
For more than two decades, Bowden has been instrumental in growing all aspects of the convention and tourism industry in Columbus. Originally hired as the CVB’s Olympic Coordinator for the 1996 Olympic Games, Bowden was quickly tapped to become deputy director for the then called Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau and in May 2003 was appointed as President & CEO, managing a staff of eight associates. With an annual budget of $1.5 million, VisitColumbusGA is responsible for marketing Columbus as a convention and leisure destination. Under Bowden’s leadership, Columbus has set new tourism records for the last 15 years, culminating with a record 2.3 million total visitors, who spent more than $364 million in FY 2019. Tourism spending has generated over $5.7 billion for Columbus since FY 2003.
“What a true honor to be recognized at this level. We often challenge ourselves, our organizations by looking to make a difference on some level. This is what drives me when I ask myself, ‘Did I make a difference?’ That’s all any of us can hope to do in our lifetime–at work and with family,” Bowden said. “I’m thankful to have been given the opportunity to serve. The team I’ve had the pleasure to lead is one of a kind.”
Bowden has led the work on two city-wide branding campaigns, the latest as a part of Columbus 2025. He has rebranded the Convention & Visitors Bureau, now called VisitColumbusGA. Bowden and his team have recently re-dedicated a completely renovated Visitors Center in Uptown Columbus, making it again a major anchor destination within the Uptown area, and he has worked to assemble a robust team as head of the Columbus Film Commission, positioning Columbus as the third Film Hub in Georgia.
He has served on several boards to include the Columbus Cultural Arts Alliance, past-president of the Presidential Pathways Travel Association, past-president of the Georgia Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus, Southeastern Tourism Society Advisory Board, Georgia Department of Economic Development’s (GDEcD) Tourism Advisory Board and others. And, is the recipient of numerous awards such as this one.
Bowden’s credentials include Destination International’s Certified Destination Marketing Executive, GACVB’s Leadership Excellence Certification and Southeast Tourism Society’s Tourism Marketing Professional.
Other points of note include VisitColumbusGA was the first to be accredited in Georgia by Destination International and the Georgia Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus (GACVB); it has been re- accredited by both organizations. In 2011, GACVB awarded VisitColumbusGA the 2008 Excellence in Tourism award.
Hosted by the GDEcD and the GACVB, the annual Georgia Governor’s Conference on Tourism brought together more than 500 tourism industry professionals from across the state.
“The record-breaking impact and visitation we have seen are a testament to Georgia’s appeal as a visitor destination. Travelers from all over the world come to experience Georgia’s vast range of natural landscapes, iconic places and way of life,” said GDEcD Commissioner Pat Wilson. “I applaud all of our tourism industry professionals for delivering world-class offerings and inspiring travel to our state. Their efforts play a valuable role in making strides toward Georgia becoming the No. 1 travel destination in the American South.”
“Tourism is a key piece of Georgia’s success story,” said Governor Brian P. Kemp. “As the top state for business for the sixth year in a row, visitors to Georgia are a crucial sector of the state’s economy. Travelers explore our outdoor activities, food, music, arts, culture and historical venues while supporting small businesses and local communities. I look forward to the Peach State building on 2018’s record year and continuing to be a worldwide destination for those looking for Southern hospitality.”
As visitor spending climbed, so did the overall number of visitors. In 2018, Georgia welcomed a record 111.67 million visitors which supported 475,000 jobs and generated $66.2 billion in economic impact, up 4.7 percent over 2017.
The Governor’s Tourism Conference provides a platform to educate members of the tourism industry about travel and tourism-related issues on a national and statewide level, focusing on emerging trends as well as ways to reinforce current tourism efforts and future initiatives. The 2020 Georgia Governor’s Tourism Conference will be hosted by the Lanier Islands Legacy Lodge and held August 30 to September 2, 2020.