Early school start can have impact on tourism

By W. WINSTON SKINNER winston@newnan.com "School's Cool ... but not in August!" That's the slogan of Save Our Summers -- Florida, one of several allied groups seeking to expand the length of summer vacation in southern states. The first day of school has tended to come earlier and earlier during the past two decades.
Some parents and other citizens are pushing for a return to a start time that is later, perhaps after Labor Day. In some states, the effort has been focused on having a set first day of school statewide. One of the reasons for the proposals is to give families more time together at a stretch, which could increase the opportunity for families to take a vacation together. Pam Mayer, executive director of the Coweta County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said a longer summer break is a plus in the eyes of tourism boosters in Georgia. "It's very important to the tourism industry that the family has time to have their vacation together," she said. "We're very supportive of the later calendar," Mayer added. She said the shortened summer break has been a topic at state tourism meetings. While there is an economic impact from the shorter summer, Mayer said many see the earlier school start as something that keeps families from having time together to relax and explore some interesting place. "It's not a tourism issue. It's more a family issue," she said. Tourists create economic gain for communities not only by visiting museums, parks, historic sites and other destinations. They shop at local stores, purchase fuel, eat at restaurants and spend the night at hotels, motels and inns. The short summer season has a negative impact on some places in Georgia more than in Coweta County. "We don't really have a summer destination," Mayer said, noting the local museums and attractions are accessible and available all year. "You can see us anytime. We're not like Six Flags," Mayer said. That situation will change, however, when Chattahoochee Bend State Park opens -- tentatively set for next summer. The park will offer trails and camping, ideal activities for families on a summer vacation. Looking toward the future, a later start for school "would be an asset to us," Mayer said. The Baldwin County Board of Education in Alabama decided to start classes a week later -- Aug. 16 -- this year after tourism officials approached them. Herb Malone, president of the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau, told Associated Press the delay will help beach businesses and that the school system could benefit from the sales tax generated during an extra week of summer vacation. The Save Kentucky Summers Web site referenced a 2007 independent study -- funded by the Kentucky Tourism Council -- that concluded the Kentucky economy loses $187 million dollars each August because of early August school start dates. SKS also noted the Kentucky State Fair has seen a decrease in attendance during the past 10 years despite an increase in the state's population. "This is because all of Kentucky schools are in session during the state fair making it difficult for families to attend," according to SKS. A study by Dr. M. Keivan Deravi, interim vice chancellor of academic affairs at Auburn University at Montgomery, concluded the tourism industry is hard hit by compressed summer breaks, producing a loss of $260 million in revenue for the state's tourism industry. Deravi's study also concluded Alabama -- like most southern states -- has its peak number of tourists in the summer. A 2003 study commissioned by the Uniform School Start Date Task Force of the South Carolina Department of Education reached similar conclusions: *Early school start dates shorten the August vacation season in South Carolina and are associated with decreased August tourism demand, costing tourism millions in lost economic activity and millions in local and state tax revenues. *Decreased August tourist activity as schools start earlier is not offset by increases in tourist activity in other summer months. *A conservative economic estimate suggests that if August were restored as a summer vacation month in South Carolina through a later public school start date, the result would be a $180 million total economic impact on the state, including $8.37 million in additional state and local tax revenues. The South Carolina study was done by Dr. Stephen C. Morse, Ph.D., an economist and professor at the University of South Carolina. A 2000 study by Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander at the request of state senators and the Texas education commissioner found early school start dates and a shortened summer tourist season annually cut an estimated $332 million from tourist economies in Texas. Proponents of the later school start date have also said a later start would allow more students to work and earn money and experience through working at tourism related venues.


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