Forecast Remains Sunny for Savannah Chamber and Tourism Arm

Shawndra Russell

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

For the Savannah Chamber and its tourism arm, Visit Savannah, 2013 was a very good year. Chamber membership retention held strong at 89% for the second year in a row. The @VisitSavannah Twitter handle was named the best destination marketing account in the world. And at the 30 networking events held in 2013, 7,300 people attended. 

Proudest Achievements in 2013

Visit Savannah President Joe Marinelli shares a few things he’s particularly proud that his team accomplished in 2013: “We re-introduced as a true "best-in-class" destination marketing website. Our Savannah Sports Council celebrated its 20th year in existence in 2013 and also introduced a new website and our Convention Sales team has already started booking business into 2018 and 2019.”

The inaugural Savannah Food & Wine Festival, presented by the Tourism Leadership Council, along with the new Savannah VOICE Festival, were certainly nice boosts for Savannah tourism as was the second year of the popular Savannah Rock ‘N Roll Marathon. And River Street upped their number of events, introducing new Halloween, food truck, and New Year’s Eve events.

Bill Hubbard, Savannah Chamber’s president, notes his 2013 highlights include, “Our membership retention rates are among the highest in the country. Our high networking numbers indicate people are finding value from these events time and again.” Hubbard also pointed to being particularly pleased with the accolades Savannah earned this year, like Top Ten Romantic City by Livability, Top 25 Destination in the World by Tripadvisor, Top Ten Friendliest City in America, and American’s Best Cities by Travel+Leisure. 

2014 Focus 

For 2014, Marinelli says his staff will be “focused on building out how we use video and images to best market Savannah. We believe that everything we do, from the way we present our website, to how we do social media and online marketing, to even how we attract the attention of meeting planning professionals, video can be a much stronger tool for us."

Marinelli is on target given that image and video-based content garners more attention than text. Forbes contributor Jayson DeMers predicted in “The Top 7 Social Media Marketing Trends That Will Dominate 2014” that “Image-centric networks will see a huge success” and “we’ll witness the rise of micro-video.”

Besides serving their members as best as possible, the chamber team under Hubbard will put an emphasis on two groups: the under-40 crowd and the military. LAUNCHSavannah, a division of the chamber dedicated to serving professionals ages 22-40, burst onto the Savannah networking scene in 2013 with five events. “We had a goal of 50-80 people for the first event,” Hubbard says, “and 280 showed up. The other four events also had 200+ participants. So, we know we’ve found a need to fill.”

For their members tied to the military, Hubbard promises to continually remind elected officials about the various assets of the area and discourage troops from being reduced at Paris Island, Hunter Army Air Force and Fort Stewart. “Our military arms are under tough budget constraints, but we’d hate to see a large troop reduction, and as a result the whole area would feel the economic impact. So, we want to help make our bases as good as they can be and are working with our friends in South Carolina to lobby our government,” he says.

2014 Snapshot for Savannah

Despite this concern, Hubbard and Marinelli are both excited for what’s in store for 2014. “There is so much to talk about,” Marinelli says, with “JetBlue making its Savannah debut in February and their pre-sales numbers have been outstanding. Add to that big new hotel brands like Kimpton Hotels and Embassy Suites coming into the market, and a variety of new and exciting dining and retail options and that story gets even better. And with new projects that will soon break ground on both ends of River Street, I see a transformation of that experience beginning to develop right before our eyes. And the good news is that its not all ‘pipe dreams’— it is all really happening."