Posted: Saturday, October 19th 2013 at 6:30pm
Ga.'s 1st tourism director dies; lived in Dahlonega
By Ken Stanford Staff
DAHLONEGA – Bill Hardman, Georgia's first tourism director, died Friday in Gainesville.
Hardman, who was 87, lived in Dahlonega.
He was the first president of the Southern Travel Directors’ Council (now Travel South USA), chairman of the Travel Industry Association of America (now U.S. Travel Association), a key player in development of the Georgia World Congress Center and the architect of the Southeast Tourism Society (STS).
“Bill Hardman has many legacies, but STS is one that continues to touch people every day and to strengthen the industry he came to love,” said Bud Flora, retired senior vice president and former publisher of Southern Living magazine, speaking of the 1,000-member organization that promotes travel in a 12-state region.
It was in 1959 that then-Gov. Ernest Vandiver appointed Hardman the state's first tourism director.
Hardman recalled in a 2002 newspaper interview that he told the governor he didn’t know anything about tourism but that Vandiver asked him to stay for a couple of months. He stayed almost 12 years.
Georgia was largely a pass-through state for Florida-bound vacationers then, but Hardman saw huge potential.
During his tenure as state tourism director, he built the state’s first eight welcome centers, launched a tourism advertising program, conducted the nation’s first Governor’s Conference on Tourism and promoted Georgia throughout the U.S. and in Canada and Europe.
He left state government in 1970 and founded Hardman Productions, which conducted travel and RV trade shows and other events.
Hardman was hired in the early 1970s to lobby the Georgia legislature to appropriate $30 million to build the Georgia World Congress Center and to place it in Atlanta. Many legislators wanted the facility in other cities.
“There’s no Bill Hardman Room in the World Congress Center, but he was the visionary," Georgia Public Service Commission Chairman Lauren "Bubba" McDonald, Jr. said in a 2002 newspaper article that announced Hardman’s induction into the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau Hospitality Hall of Fame.
Hardman’s service on the national stage included being chairman of the Travel Association of America, now U.S. Travel Association, and having the longest tenure on that association’s board of any member, more than 40 years.
In 1983, Hardman was at the center of creation of the Southeast Tourism Society, which started with seven states and has grown to 12.
Hardman often credited the success of STS to his wife of 52 years, Dorothy (“I did all the talking, and she did all the work”). She died in 2000, and Hardman married Helen Fincher, also a Georgia tourism professional, in 2006. Fincher once headed the convention and visitors bureau in Gainesville.
The funeral will be held Tuesday at 2:00 at the Dahlonega United Methodist Church.
(A full obituary can be found on the AccessNorthGa.com Obituaries Page.)
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