Visit Savannah Gears Up for a Banner Year

Shawndra Russell

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Visit Savannah, Savannah’s CVB and tourism arm of the city’s chamber of commerce, is an industry leader in destination marketing. In a recent infographic by Spark Loft Media titled “Top 10 US Cities on Social Media in 2013”, @VisitSavannah, the handle for their various social media profiles, was ranked in the Top 10 for Instagram and Pinterest based purely on number of followers. But, their Twitter handle was recently ranked #1 on Twitter in the world for DMOs (destination marketing organizations) by Besty A. Decillis Consulting.

Of course, Visit Savannah President Joe Marinelli is proud of his staff for these accomplishments, but promises they have no intent of plateauing. “In 2013 we built our business plan on three cornerstones: PRESERVATION (of the customers that we are already fortunate to have), the ongoing ACQUISITION of new customers, and using INNOVATION in everything that we do. Quite honestly, we plan to continue to embrace those same three strategies into 2014. This past summer, Jeremy Harvey joined our team and will bring new leadership to our marketing efforts. He is young and very sharp and is excited about helping us to continue to build on the momentum that Savannah is enjoying with our tourism promotion efforts," Marinelli says.

And Marinelli isn’t satisfied with just doing more of the same, as evident by their decision to revamp the website. He explains, “We had a choice to make when we set out to rebuild a site for the future that everyone was already happy with.  But we knew that the old site was stale and needed an injection of "tomorrow" today. We could've easily chosen to go with a safer design concept, one that was the same template that so many organizations like ours around the country use and have success with. But that was not good enough for us. We really want to do something bold. I remember challenging the three finalist companies that were bidding on being our new web developer with this question: "Your task is to tell us why, if Google can give us the answer to any question that we can think of today, why will we even need a website in three years?" It certainly hasn't come without its bumps along the way, but that's what happens when you try to anticipate how travelers will use our site for the next 3-5 years vs. how they have been using it for the last 3-5.”

He also points out that new additions to Savannah’s tourism offerings helps make their job easier. “With a number of new hotels coming on line soon,” Marinelli notes, “those bookings will help to lay a strong foundation for many years to come." New hotels on the block to open in 2014 are Cotton Sail Hotel, The Brice: A Kimpton Hotel, while Embassy Suites Savannah just welcomed their first guests on New Year’s.

But more heads in beds isn’t the most important metric of success for Marinelli. “Its easy to point to the day-to-day metrics like stronger hotel/motel tax collections, higher hotel occupancies and increases in numbers of visitors to our city. But our Board expects us to build a plan that reflects the current business environment, changes and challenges, and then to deliver on that plan.  Success for Visit Savannah is defined by leadership and innovation.  We are not measured in terms of more, more, more.  Instead, the expectation is that we strive to deliver the most productive program-of-work to drive customers to our members.  (But its also really nice when those trolley's are full too!)"

While his staff certainly helps keep those trolleys full, Marinelli thinks Savannah’s beauty and abundance of attractions speak for themselves to make it a top vacation destination in Georgia—and quite frankly, the world. “With all due respect to our friends around the state, Savannah is truly the crown jewel. Tourism is a large part of Georgia's economic development.  Governor Deal sees the value and is one of our industries greatest cheerleaders. Locally, the folks at SEDA (Savannah Economic Development Authority) quickly point to the impact of Savannah's tourism story as one of their greatest selling tools when talking to new prospects.  Plus we are very fortunate that our elected leaders at the City, County and State level understand and support what we do."