Georgia travel: Great places to visit around the state

Access Travel: What's open around the state?

ATLANTA -- Spring break, getaways for couples before school let out, business travel, summer trips out of the country; The coronavirus pandemic hit the brakes on travel plans from coast to coast.

And canceled plans rank near the bottom of the destruction left in its path. The U.S. Travel Association projects job losses to affect more than 4.5 million people. Travel declines will result in the loss of $80 billion in taxes. The state of Georgia and those employed in the industry here haven’t been immune to the effects.

“It’s been devastating,” Megan Hood from the Georgia Department of Economic Development told WSBTV.com’s Nelson Hicks. “You know one of the first things that happened when all the states started shutting down and COVID become a reality here in the state is that people stopped traveling. And tourism is a huge industry here in the state. It’s a $69.6 billion dollar industry here in Georgia. And as of April and May, we had more than 90% of our tourism related workers out of work.”

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But staying home during the pandemic hasn’t destroyed most people’s desire to travel. A study conducted in part by Sports and Leisure Research Group indicates 64% of people would be willing to travel in the next three months if there were assurances that it was safe to do so. HomeToGo notes that for online travel searches, the average number of days until check in is only 43, meaning many people are planning to travel this summer. Most experts believe trips close to home will see the greatest impact.

“There’s a ton of great places that people can explore the state and be safe and social distance and do all the things that they need to do right now, but still get out and cure that cabin fever,” Hood said.

Lucky for us, Georgia offers a wide variety of things to see and do. From the waterfalls of north Georgia to the beaches of the Georgia coast and everything in between, the Peach State provides its residents plenty of vacation options that don’t require a flight.

“That’s really been our marketing pitch, is the two to three hour drive-in leisure customer, that family that...couldn’t go on the cruise or couldn’t fly wherever they were supposed to,” said Edd Karlan from Chateau Elan Winery and Resort. “They’ve been locked up in the house for a month or two. Our resort is a great option.”

Many Georgians will experience nearby destinations that they might never have considered before.

“We’re going to say close (to home). We’re going to stay here in Georgia,” Scott Eastin said. “We are a family that loves the outdoors. We’re a family that likes to go out on lakes. We like to go out on the beach. So, I think we’re going to stay very close.”

“We’ve been here for 13 years (and) we’ve never been to the Georgia coast,” Eastin continued. “So, I think we’ll probably drive down to the Georgia coast and check it out for once.”

What’s open? Head out of town, north to Cartersville, to catch some air at Terminus Wake Park. It’s a cable wake facility.

“Instead of being pulled behind a boat, you are pulled by a cable system that is rotating above the lake,” Savannah Wofford of Terminus Wake Park said. “There’s always this upward pull bringing you above the water. Because of that, we’ve got features and rails and kickers you can hit. It’s kind of like a skatepark on water.”

Wakeboarding not your thing? Head in town to experience the Atlanta Botanical Garden. With timed tickets and a new exhibit, the garden offers a chance to enjoy the great outdoors without huge crowds. Spend the night at a nearby hotel and venture out to Zoo Atlanta the next day. The Zoo opened to the public in late May. Purchase your tickets online ahead of time.

Need a little more peace and adult time after all those days homeschooling? Head to Chateau Elan in Braselton. Many of the award-winning winery’s amenities opened for Memorial Day and several other spots around the 3,500 acre resort opened since.

“All-inclusive resort here with a full operating winery, which is really the biggest amenity for our customers, that we have an active winery that is open to the public for tours, tastings and bottle purchases,” Karlan said.

If COVID-19 canceled your cruise or Caribbean vacation, consider Little St. Simons Island. Sure, you know St. Simons Island, but Little St. Simons is a whole different experience. It’s a 10,000 acre resort with only a handful of guests, world-class all-inclusive dining, an empty beach, wildlife and experiences led by naturalists that are included in your stay. It reopened for business mid-May.

“It’s like stepping back in time,” guest Joel Richardson said. “We went on a ride this morning out into the woods. It was like going into Jurassic Park. It was almost truly prehistoric.”

Across the state, a plethora of places to stay await eager travelers. Sea Island started taking reservations June 5. It’s a five-star resort on the Georgia coast. Several Georgia state park lodges resumed operations in late May. Thousands of Airbnb options offer yet another travel experience.

the Sea Island Beach Club...
the Sea Island Beach Club...

“People started looking at somewhere to travel, I think we have to be realistic that it’s not going to be the same,” Hood said. “Travel has definitely changed. And we definitely want tourism to come back. We definitely want people to start exploring again. But we also want to make sure everyone is being safe and following guidelines and that they feel safe to do so.”