Tourism is Georgia's second largest industry, and in 2004 it contributed $26 billion to the state's economy. By marketing historic downtowns and neighborhoods, house museums, landscapes, and archaeological sites alongside nearby attractions, communities can enhance their appeal to tourists. To be successful, the historic properties must be properly maintained, accessible to the public, and accurately interpreted.
Archaeological and historic properties play an important role in the tourism economies of Augusta, Macon, coastal Georgia, and the Georgia mountains. In addition, many smaller Georgia communities are incorporating their historic places as part of their economic and community development strategies.
Many significant sites are owned and managed by such public agencies as the National Park Service and the state's Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites division of the Department of Natural Resources, but heritage tourism would not survive without the support of private and volunteer organizations, such as the Georgia African American Historic Preservation Network and the Sparta-Hancock Alliance for Revitalization and Empowerment. The Sparta-Hancock Alliance facilitates employment and other economic opportunities for local residents by promoting the area's cultural, historic, architectural, and natural resources as tourist attractions.
African American heritage, Native American heritage, railways, music, and the Civil War (1861-65) are among the most popular areas of interest for heritage tourists. Noteworthy sites include the Hancock County historic districts; the Morton Theatre in Athens; the Chief Vann House Historic Site in Chatsworth; the Ocmulgee National Monument in Macon; the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park near Fort Oglethorpe, which commemorates the Battle of Chickamauga; and Pickett's Mill Battlefield Historic Site in Dallas the site of the Battle of Pickett's Mill.
Several Georgia communities cater to the growing interest in historic railways. The Central of Georgia Railway National Landmark District in Savannah is the most intact antebellum railroad repair complex in the country. Besides being a popular tourist attraction, it provides a valuable educational experience for local public school students. The SAM Shortline Excursion Train lets passengers experience a vintage train
ride with stops in historic Americus and at the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains. Out-of-service railroad depots all over Georgia have been adapted for such alternative uses as community museums or municipal offices.
Seasoned travelers often venture outside large cities and off interstate highways, searching for new experiences. Regional trail systems, driving tours, and designated scenic byways create themed experiences while providing travelers with practical directions through unfamiliar territory. Trail themes, such as Civil War heritage trails, provide a context for the interpretation of the area's culture and local history.
Bringing the tourism potential of historic sites to fruition can have a significant effect on local economies. The challenge is to capitalize on these resources while preserving and protecting the sites, vistas, and open spaces that accurately convey the historic experience. Such attention can also raise awareness among local citizens to the importance of the long-term preservation of their historic properties. Heavy visitation to a historic site can result in deterioration, however, if not carefully managed. As heritage tourism grows, it becomes increasingly important for managers of historic sites and areas to be educated in the appropriate preservation techniques and methods necessary to maintain, interpret, and protect these fragile resources.