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Tourism Trailblazers: Women leading the charge at Visit Statesboro
Exploring The City That Soars
Peyton Fuller
Peyton Fuller

Georgia’s travel and tourism industry is a major driver for our local and statewide economies. Our state has quickly become a top travel destination in the world, and has been named one of the “50 Best Places to Travel” in 2019 by Travel + Leisure.  In Statesboro, we are lucky to have the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau (Visit Statesboro) to promote tourism in our area and to make visitors and residents aware of local restaurants, hotels, venues, and all the wonderful things to do that make Statesboro a unique destination.  

Like most businesses locally and nationwide, Statesboro and Bulloch County hotels took a massive hit during 2020 due to the pandemic.  Total hotel revenue saw monthly decreases ranging from 20% to over 60%.  Beginning in March of 2021, Statesboro hotels as a whole saw a record-breaking resurgence in travel and revenue as compared to the previous decade that has continued monthly into 2022.  Visit Statesboro worked throughout the pandemic as a community resource while continuing to promote, advertise, and advocate all of the great things that Statesboro and Bulloch County offer.  

The Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau was established in 1987. In 2014, Visit Statesboro moved from a little cottage on South Main Street to a larger facility in what is now the heart of the Blue Mile district.  The driving force behind Visit Statesboro is the staff who work there and the board of directors that supports them. Since this issue is featuring women who have made a mark in the Boro, I wanted to highlight the women who work at Visit Statesboro and serve on the board of directors.  These women do an outstanding job of supporting the mission of Visit Statesboro, as well as promoting Statesboro and Bulloch County on a daily basis.  

Becky Sanders has been the executive director since 2016, and began working for Visit Statesboro in 2012 as the marketing manager.  She became involved with tourism as a very active volunteer at the Averitt Center for the Arts and through this was asked to join the Statesboro Arts Council’s Board of Directors.  Serving on this board gave her knowledge of Visit Statesboro and all that the organization does for tourism in Statesboro and Bulloch County.  Her favorite aspect of the job is being able to tell Statesboro’s story.  

“I believe it is a privilege to showcase this beautiful city near and far while being a part of a team that loves Statesboro as much as I do,” she said.  

For Becky, travel is a shared passion and it brings people into the welcome center from all over the world.  She enjoys being able to talk with them about what brought them to town and hearing their travel stories.  Since becoming executive director, Becky has been a vital part of the many accomplishments of the organization.  In 2018, Visit Statesboro won Georgia’s Regional Visitor Information Center of the Year from the Georgia Department of Economic Development.  Other accomplishments include implementing a retail gift shop inside Visit Statesboro, turning the adjacent warehouse from a blighted property into the new home of the Statesboro Main Street Farmers Market, and successfully moving the Market2Go under Visit Statesboro, increasing sales and vendor participation.  

“The Visit Statesboro team under Becky Sanders’ leadership continues to implement great marketing and advertising strategy as destination stewards of the local lodging tax dollars.  As a recipient of the local lodging taxes, Visit Statesboro’s fiscally responsible reinvestment in tourism promotion and product development keeps Sanders and team selling Statesboro’s great amenities to travelers for business and leisure and keeps Statesboro at the tourism-based economic development industry table,” said Jay Markwalter, executive director, Georgia Association of Convention & Visitors Bureaus. “The Visit Statesboro operation of the experiential Welcome Center of rotating exhibits is just one example of leading the way in partnerships and collaboration. Becky maintains a presence in the state and Southeast as an ambassador of Statesboro as a destination and is recognized by peers as an effective leader and trend setting tourism professional in Georgia’s travel and hospitality arena.”

Murphy McRae has been the lead hospitality specialist at Visit Statesboro for six years.  She is originally from Connecticut and moved to Georgia to attend the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah. After graduation, Murphy decided to make Statesboro her home as a fun and friendly community to explore post-graduate life. 

During her time with Visit Statesboro, she has assisted with tourism conferences, helped put together annual favorite community events like ChiliTown, and has been a significant part of the team helping with the transition of bringing the farmers market to the new facility.  Her favorite part about her job is answering questions for both residents, visitors, and newcomers about all the things Statesboro has to offer.  She also enjoys promoting local musicians and events as well as selling items in the gift shop, like local favorite, Kim’s Cheese Straws.  She believes Statesboro is a special place because Statesboro’s pride in itself really sets it apart from other communities.  

“People who live here love it, and they want everyone else to see how special it is as well,” she said.

Olivia Willett is the owner of local favorite Shane’s Rib Shack.  She has served on the board of Visit Statesboro for six years. She enjoys volunteering her time with an organization that focuses on bringing visitors to Statesboro, her hometown.  

“The thing I love most about Statesboro is the people! There are so many amazing people to get to know, and so many great things to do in Statesboro,” she said.  

Since becoming a board member, the project she is most proud of is the conversion of the warehouse behind Visit Statesboro into a facility that can be used as a rental venue as well as a home for the Statesboro Main Street Farmers Market.  She loves to walk through on Saturday mornings and witness the interactions between the vendors and customers at the market.  As a business owner, her advice to aspiring women is, “to not settle and keep trying no matter how difficult things seem.  You should always persevere and strive to be the best you can be.”  

When asked how she balances being a busy mom of five and a business owner, her response is, “I’m not sure if there is a balance, my business is like one of my kids. I want to offer great food and great service to the community!  I feel like a mom to all of my employees. I try to treat them well, bring out the best in them, and I want to see them achieve great things.”   

Christina Harrell is an accountant and works for Ogeechee Technical College as the resource coordinator for the OTC Foundation and is very active in the community.  She joined the board in 2019, and enjoys being involved with such a great organization that participates in tourism and invests in the community.  She believes it is incredibly encouraging to see our Visit Statesboro thrive in a region that is expanding so quickly.  

Christina compliments the staff of Visit Statesboro by saying, “They all wear several different hats and the organization would not be able accomplish what it has without them.”   

When asked how young women can do more to get involved with the community and how this will benefit them in the future, she says they should check out all the different civic organizations and find their fit, adding that it will help them grow as people and get them more involved in the community.  In reference to balancing being a working mom while staying engaged in the community, Christina says, “It doesn’t come without its complications but it helps to be part of a community that is like family and supports working moms who want to give back.”  

It has been great working with the women on staff and on the board of directors over the past five years.  I look forward to seeing what this organization is able to accomplish in the future.  

This article was written by Peyton Fuller, who has lived and worked in Statesboro and Bulloch County since graduating high school in 2000.  He has been involved with many local organizations and clubs such as the Statesboro Jaycees, Statesboro Farmers Market, and Leadership Bulloch.  He currently works as senior accountant for the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners.  He has served on the board of directors of Visit Statesboro for five years and is currently the board president.