Posted by Doreen Higgins on Aug 21, 2017
Joe Marinelli gave us a spirited account of the tourism industry in Savannah on Wednesday morning.  Joe is the President of Visit Savannah and has had thirty years’ experience in this type of work.  He describes his mission as destination marketing for Savannah, Georgia, and Tybee Island.

Prior to coming to Savannah Joe was the Senior Vice President for the Experience Columbus Ohio region, and before that, he was in marketing roles in Detroit, Pittsburgh, Charleston, Washington DC and the Plaza Hotel in New York. His focus here and now is on attracting leisure, convention, and business visits to Savannah. Joe sits on various statewide boards which are associated with his activity.

First, some impressive statistics: thirteen and a half million visitors came to Savannah in 2016 and spent almost $3 billion. These visitors were holidaymakers, conventioneers, military personnel, and business people, many bringing friends and family with them. Many came because of interest in, or business with, major entities such as JCB, Gulfstream, Mitsubishi, and the Savannah port. This tourist activity supports 27,000 jobs, many of them skilled. The year 2016 was the best yet in terms of visitors, and so far 2017 is 6% ahead of 2016 for comparable months. Joe said that Savannah bounced back quickly from hurricane Matthew, thanks in part to a strong marketing drive emphasizing that Savannah was open and ready for business in the weeks immediately following the hurricane. Tybee, he said, was not so fortunate; 50% of its rentals are still not completely restored and 20% are still off-line.

Joe turned to the future. What’s on the horizon? New hotels – an expansion of the Convention Center may bring with it a new hotel; there is much activity downtown, with the new “entertainment district” and a new Marriott to open late 2019. The established hotels Marriott, Hyatt, Westin, and the DeSoto have all had major renovations. The DeSoto is now a ‘boutique’ hotel, already open but will have a formal grand opening in September. There are “lots of new hotels, lots of great restaurants,” and Broughton Street has 97% occupancy. There are two new museums that Joe brought to our attention: The American Prohibition Museum and the Savannah African Art Museum.

We have increased air service into our airport, and events galore coming up: Savannah Voice Festival (now happening), Savannah Crack Food Festival, the Film Festival, the Savannah Speed Classic, Coastal Jazz, the R&R Marathon and following concert…… could anyone stay at home? We thanked Joe for his presentation, work, and inspiration, and then he answered some questions:
  • Is Charleston comparable financially? Yes close; Charleston is a little bigger than Savannah, and admits cruise ships.
  • Parking? New parking is coming. Mr. Kessler’s plans for downtown areas include planned parking, and the city is studying the idea of remote valet parking.
  • How many hotel rooms are there? About 15,500, of which 5000 are downtown.
  • Is there a ceiling for the number of visitors? Occupancy overall is at 80%, average rates $185 per night, and the inventory of rooms is increasing.
  • Public safety? It’s a huge concern, tourist business very supportive of the Chief of Police. Cruise ships to Savannah? No. The supreme importance of the Port of Savannah to business far beyond our city precludes the presence of cruise ships in the Savannah River.

Below is a photo of Kathie Anderson and Joe Marinelli.