Another record-year expected in Savannah tourism industry

Savannah skyline from across the Savannah River
Savannah skyline from across the Savannah River(Ricardo Thomas | WTOC)
Updated: Dec. 12, 2018 at 4:10 PM EST
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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Record tourism is nothing new to Savannah; the trend has continued now for the last five years. Visit Savannah expects another 14 million visitors by year-end – generating billions of dollars for local businesses.

The city’s tourism industry employs about 27,000 people. The record years we’ve seen allow them to keep their jobs year-round, and it’s allowed the city to see money it had not seen before.

Whether it’s the cobblestone of River Street, or something simpler, there are ample reasons to visit the Hostess City.

“I would have to say the history. The romance to it. All the squares,” said Larry Leonard, in town from Chicago. “It’s definitely picturesque.”

Leonard’s wife found a different reason to visit and said the Spanish moss adorning the trees in the city were the draw for her. Millions of others find their reason to visit.

“Savannah really has the complete package for an ideal visitor destination especially a getaway destination like ours,” said Joe Marinelli, President of Visit Savannah. “As the popularity of this destination continues to grow, people want to come here. We have lot more choices for them while they’re here.”

The city looks at factors like the hotel/motel tax, the occupancy numbers, and the average cost of a night when determining how busy the year has been. In 2018, all of them are up.

The hotel tax collection in Savannah is up five percent, or almost a million dollars year to date from 2017.

“I mean, we’ll see how November and December numbers shake out, but yeah, we’re expecting our numbers to be on par maybe even up with last year,” Marinelli said.

Marinelli pointed to the opening of new restaurants and hotels in the historic district when referencing the appeal and demand of the city.

Joe Marinelli talks 2018 tourism
Joe Marinelli talks 2018 tourism(Jonathan Godwin | WTOC)

The record tourism means visitor spending is also expected to increase this year; that number was just short of $3 billion last year, according to Marinelli. That figure comes from sales tax info on lodging, food and beverage, entertainment, transportation, and retail.

“Many years ago, the Savannah tourism scene had some very distinct peaks and valleys, busy times of the year and then slow times of the year,” Marinelli said. “In today’s market, that’s not the case.”

Couples like the Leonards will keep showing up here, looking for something to do, somewhere to stay, and something to eat.

“You just show up here and it’s about quality time with your partner or friends and family you’re with and just let the city take you where you need to be taken,” Leonard said.

As for 2019, if the economy stays good, Visit Savannah expects to see more growth. Marinelli said the Plant Riverside and Eastern Wharf developments and expansion of the convention center are things to look forward to in 2019.

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