"The South with a Twist" is Georgia's 2-month-old, $2.1 million advertising campaign that showcases the unexpected tourist attractions in the state. For the Atlanta area, and in particular, that means spirits.
"When we did our market research, we found out that people came for the authentic Southern experience and all that entails, but what they loved is the modern flare, the unexpected surprises," said Kevin Langston, Georgia's deputy commissioner for tourism in the Economic Development Department.
"Like Marietta Square—it's a great Old South meeting up with the modern. There are historic homes, great restaurants, art, theater, museums. It's a wonderful place to visit."
Langston visited Marietta Square on March 13, had dinner at and took a ride on the , covering one kind of Southern spirit.
The other type comes from breweries, wineries and the stores selling their wares, such as the just off the square.
"One of the things we are trying to communicate is that you don't have to drive for days to have a great vacation; you can have one here."
Georgia was the fourth-fastest-growing U.S. destination for international travelers with a 19 percent increase in 2010. The state saw an 8.3 percent increase—$21 billion—in domestic and international visitor spending in 2010 from the year before.
Tourists in Cobb County alone spent $3.3 million a day in 2010.
"Cobb has tons of things that make it a great tourist destination," Langston said. "There is the experience right here on the square, which is terrific. You have the and battlefields, but there's also wineries and the haunted trolley tour.
He also mentioned Marietta's "active locomotive history," which will become more active than usual in three weeks. The city is commemorating the with four days of re-enactments, museum tours, a film, authors and more.
Tourism in a Tough Economy
"Georgia has a great urban product and a great coastal product," Langston said. "One of the things we are trying to communicate is that you don't have to drive for days to have a great vacation; you can have one here."
The South with a Twist campaign is promoting Georgia to Georgians. Gas prices are going up, and that's changing the way people travel. Vacationers are staying a little closer to home.
Langston said more and more people also are taking last-minute vacations.
With ExploreGeorgia.org and the Georgia Travel Guide, travelers can build a unique day trip or extended vacation, Langston said. The website presents special offers, trip ideas, events, traditional and modern attractions—"all the information you need to get out of town and have a great trip."
The South with a Twist campaign targets women ages 25 to 54 who live in Georgia or neighboring states.
"They tend to be the travel decision-makers in the household," Langston said.
The campaign breaks Georgia into nine regions: Historic High Country, Northeast Georgia Mountains, Atlanta Metro, Presidential Pathways, Historic Heartland, Classic South, Magnolia Midlands, Plantation Trace and the Georgia Coast.
The Atlanta-area ads focus on "Stargazing with a Twist" and "Spirit with a Twist," like Langston's visit to Marietta Square. Across the state, the ads include "Beauty Sleep with a Twist," "Nightlight with a Twist" and "Rock with a Twist."
The Impact of Tourism
In Cobb County, tourism accounted for $1.21 billion in direct spending in 2010, fueling 15,520 jobs, creating $51.3 million in state tax revenues and generating $35.9 million in local tax revenues.
"Tourism has a huge impact in Georgia," Langston said. "That's something people don't realize."
The Atlanta metro tourism region, covering Clayton, Cobb, Coweta, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett and Henry counties, accounts for almost half of the state's tourism. Tourism in the region generated $569.48 million in state tax revenues and $342.56 million in local tax revenues in 2010.
Statewide, tourism in 2010 supported more than 391,000 jobs, or 10.4 percent of all payroll employment. It generated $2.4 billion in state and local taxes and more than $45 billion in total economic impact.
"The tourism industry is stealthy in Georgia," Langston said. "It flies under the radar, but it is really one of the biggest industries in the state."
This article is part of "Dispatches: The Changing American Dream," our ongoing series about how people in Marietta are adapting to the challenges of life in the 21st century. You can find more Dispatches from across the country at The Huffington Post.