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Michael Owens: Savannah becoming year-round destination

Those who have lived here for many years remember a time when spring was the busiest time for visitors in Savannah. From St. Patrick’s Day until the summer heat of June was peak season, but in November and December things slowed down considerably. In 2009, just 18 percent of guests visited in the fourth quarter of the year.

In recent years, this has changed. Savannah now sees a nearly even distribution of guests throughout the year. In 2016, 24 percent of guests visited between January and March, 26 percent came between April and June, another 26 percent visited between July and September, with the remaining 24 percent of guests in 2016 visiting between October and December.

The desire to drive business in a slower time of year was the impetus for two major events in November: the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, which debuted in 2011, and the Savannah Food &Wine Festival, which launched in 2013. Having two busy weeks in a row lays the groundwork for a stronger season leading into Thanksgiving. These two events are only an example of two tangible efforts to bolster what used to be a slow period for businesses.

We have evolved into a market substantially less subject to the seasonal whims of destinations like ski resorts. With our mild climate, we are a beacon for those looking to escape the cold, while also attracting those seeking a beach in warmer times of the year. None of our attractions or businesses shut down in the winter. In fact, they create special experiences all of us to enjoy during the holiday season.

The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort &Spa, together with the Savannah Harbor Foundation, craft a full slate of festive events, from breakfast with Santa to holiday concerts, that draw guests across the Savannah River. Christmas parades attract crowds to both River Street and to Tybee Island. The Davenport House and Old Town Trolley create holiday-themed activities and décor that integrate Christmas cheer into their historic tours.

These experiences make the holiday season a more appealing time to enjoy Savannah, and the community helps by creating the ambiance. Many of our 22 squares are decorated by our gracious neighbors in the historic district, and the Broughton Street corridor plays host to a 50-foot Christmas tree.

Because we have evolved into a year-round destination, this translates into year-round income for local businesses, and year-round jobs for the 27,000 people who make a living in the tourism community. In many other markets, seasonality creates temporary seasonal employment. We are fortunate to have reliable year-round employment of thousands of our friends, neighbors, and family as a direct result of steady business throughout the year.

Don’t get me wrong: there are still slower periods in Savannah that are felt by businesses and employees alike. However, the concerted effort of the business community to strengthen the leaner periods is working.

Thanks to the economic driver of tourism in our area, “Slow-vannah” is a less fitting moniker for our city as far as the term relates to commerce. When the “slow season” is diminished, everyone can benefit. There are more opportunities, more income and more energy in our thriving community.

Michael Owens is president/CEO of the Tourism Leadership Council, the largest nonprofit trade organization that supports and represents the tourism community. Contact Owens at michael@tourismleadershipcouncil.com or by calling 912-232-1223.

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