Savannah has a lot going for it – tourist-wise and resident-wise. Keeping the balance requires vigilance and cooperation, says Michael Owens, president and CEO of the city’s Tourism Leadership Council.
The $3-billion-a-year tourism industry is responsible for some of the city’s prime attributes. “The renowned restaurants we have, the art galleries we boast – those cultural things so many of us enjoy simply would not be here if our tourism product and economy didn’t exist. We’re a town of about 140,000 people.”
But the success of the industry can create its own problems. “Not everything great for tourism is necessarily great for the community and our vision of what the community is and what makes Savannah so special,” Owens says.
“We have never been blind advocates for the industry. We have opposed certain tourism projects because we felt [they] didn’t fit. It’s very difficult to define what is Savannah – Savannah is special to all of us – its charms, its architecture; and that must be protected. No one I’ve worked with is interested in allowing Savannah to become Disney World.
“Communications among groups and factions” are key to striking the right balance. “It’s a small enough town that we all know each other,” he says. “If we have concerns about an individual project, a development or a noisy bachelorette party, we call each other, we talk about it.” A tourism advisory committee made up of community members within and without the tourism industry meets monthly to keep an eye on the industry-community balance.
“We are known for mysteries and manners,” Owens says of Savannah. “We’ve got to continue to protect and foster that.”
Learn more about tourism and other things going on in Savannah in this month’s feature “Old Meets New.”
Photo courtesy of the Georgia Department of Economic Development