Savannah tourism and the impact of crime - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Savannah tourism and the impact of crime

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

Savannah tourism got a huge shot in the arm as those in charge of tourism brought in more than 150 tour operators from as far away as Germany and even Asia to experience our brand of Southern hospitality.

However, maintaining the city’s second largest industry in this age of social media and viral video is a lot like keeping a Jenga tower from falling, pull the wrong block and it’s game over.  And many believe that the critical piece in this game is violent crime.

How big a threat is crime to the quality of life tourism gives you? WTOC’s David Klugh asked some of the greatest minds in the industry.

Many of them were at Thursday night’s gala at Savannah’s Green-Meldrim House. For the first time ever, The National Tour Association and 150 of its members have come from across the country and around the world to decide if the Hostess City will play host to a million more tourists in the coming years.

“These are the folks who are deciding where motor coach tours are going to happen in the next three years and of course we want Savannah to be on that schedule,” says Visit Savannah President Joe Marinelli.

Icing on a cake for an industry that has already seen a 13-percent increase in tourist revenue year to year.  But is the city’s tourism good fortune on a rocket ship or a tightrope?  There are some who help to run this machine who are convinced it’s the latter, and Savannah’s soaring violent crime problem is the reason.

“There is no greater threat to the tourism community than crime and the perception of crime,” says Michael Owens, president of the Tourism Leadership Council.  “There is no single factor in business that can more greatly devastate our community both in terms of economic numbers and employment numbers.”

Owens not only runs the Tourism Leadership Council, he’s on the board of the Metro Police Foundation, CrimeStoppers and the Chief of Police Business Advisory Committee.  His views are based on decades of a police force that is underfunded, understaffed and underwhelmed when it comes to the latest crime fighting technology. That, he insists, has left us all vulnerable.

“Crime and the perception of crime stands to ruin any momentum that this industry enjoys,” Owens believes.

At the risk of raining on the party, WTOC’s Klugh wanted to get the tourism experts take on the elephant in the room. Most believe the tourism industry does have a role in finding a solution to the city’s crime problems.

“I think the roll of the tourism industry is to be part of the community,” says Marinelli. “We all live here too. We all work here too. So, we want to be a part of the solution.”

The industry power players will tell you safety is one key to success, but you have to get people in town first. 

Pam Inman, president of the National Tour Association, said, “Savannah is absolutely the right place to be. Visit Savannah does a wonderful job. They’ve done an absolutely wonderful job of putting this event together for the National Tour Association.”

And she’s absolutely right. You cannot argue with a graph where all arrows point up. 

“A regional incident occurring, will turn that graph with the arrow pointing up, down immediately.  Absolutely immediately,” insists Owens.

What Owens is talking about is another Charleston, Chattanooga, Aurora incident. And he’s convinced Savannah is already living on borrowed time.

Owens also said he is inspired by the efforts of this police chief and the push to hire more officers and get them out of their cars. He just hopes the solution comes in time.  

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