Hurricane Dorian spares major damage in Savannah but strikes economy

Updated: Sep. 6, 2019 at 11:49 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - The worst of Hurricane Dorian missed the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry. However, the outlook isn’t all rosy for businesses in Savannah on one of their biggest anticipated summer holidays: Labor Day.

The city’s tourism leadership council director says businesses lost out on millions of dollars in profits, specifically in lodging, food and beverage, retail, recreation and transportation revenues.

CEO of Tourism Leadership Council, Michael Owens, said while shutting down the City of Savannah for nearly a week was the safest thing to do, it’s projected to equal nearly $35 million in losses.

“It’s absolutely a massive hit from workers to businesses to the government,” Owens said.

The losses stem from visitors not staying in hotels, shopping, or eating at local restaurants. It could even impact the city’s tax collection. TLC projects cities in Chatham County missed out on close to $1.5 million dollars in local hotel motel and sales tax.

TLC’s high estimate doesn’t surprise downtown restaurant managers like Francis Krieg at Olympia Cafe.

“I’m not surprised, just seeing downtown and all of Savannah, it was a ghost town, but that kind of money is going to impact businesses going forward because we are going into a slower season,” Krieg said.

With no physical damage, Savannah is getting back on its feet fast after Hurricane Dorian. Local business owners say residents returning to the city is crucial for them.

“We dodged a huge bullet,” Owens said. “Certainly, we heard from a lot of businesses how appreciative they were that evacuation order was lifted very, very quickly. It means we can start returning to normal. It means we can start making money again.”

Owens went on to say they are glad the state called for a mandatory evacuation because that was the safest option for the city of Savannah.

Beyond businesses, Dorian’s impact extended to the entire state of Georgia and the United States with one way in and one way out: the Georgia Ports Authority. They opened back fully Friday morning.

The Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson, Russel Wicke, said crews surveyed and cleared the Savannah Harbor as quickly as possible.

“Already being shut down for a few days, we had vessels out there waiting in the Atlantic Ocean for the all clear to come in, and that’s money. That means money is being lost because we are waiting,” Wicke said.

Visit Savannah and the Tourism Leadership Council geared up marketing efforts Friday morning. Savannah tourism leaders said they will continue to do so for the next several weeks to try to offset hurricane losses.

“Again, you can’t replace that revenue, but you can try to get back on your feet as quickly as possible,” Owens said.

Owens said the occupancy rate in Savannah hotels is only about 40 percent on Friday night. They are hopeful that number will climb starting Saturday.

Here’s a breakdown of the projected losses for Savannah:

Overnight VisitorsDay-TrippersTotal Sector Loss (Projected)
Lodging Revenue-$7,970,200$0$7,970,200
Food and Beverage Revenues-$6,094,853.82-$4,597,872.18-$10,692,726
Retail Revenues-$3,985,099.00-$3,006,303.50-$6,991,403.49
Recreation Revenues-$2,813,011.76-$2,122,096.59-$4,935,108.35
Transportation Revenues-$2,278,594.11-$1,718,939.41-$3,997,533.52
Grand Total Projected Revene Loss$-34,586,971.36
Estimated LOCAL Tax Loss
(Hotel/Motel Tax ONLY)

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