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Will the ‘Religious Liberty’ Bill Hurt Athens Tourism?


If Georgia passes a “religious liberty” bill into law, it could decimate the film industry and encourage businesses to leave the state.

It could also cost Athens conventions and tourists, according to local tourism officials.

House Bill 757 passed the state House of Representatives Feb. 11 and the Senate last Friday, and is now awaiting another House vote on changes made in the Senate. 

Supporters and critics disagree on whether the bill merely protects opponents of same-sex marriage from government persecution or allows businesses to deny service to same-sex couples. 

Either way, it could be a blow to Georgia’s reputation and cost Athens millions of dollars. Tourism and hospitality is a $270 million industry in Athens that employs more than 2,500 people.

“There’s never a reason to restrict anything like that,” said Paul Cramer, executive director of the Classic Center. “We want the state to remain open, and we want to be open to everybody.”

Chuck Jones, director of the Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the bill would have a bigger impact on Savannah and Atlanta, which draw more out-of-state conventions. But he has heard concerns from convention organizers who are looking at Athens.

“We saw what happened in Indiana last year,” Jones said. “We certainly don’t want that in Georgia.”