Savannah sees more money, more visitors in 2018
Last year visitors to the Hostess City opened their wallets more than ever, spending a record breaking $3 billion in 2018, an increase of 3.2% compared to the $2.91 billion spent in 2017, according to the annual Visit Savannah Visitor Study compiled by Longwoods International.
“We’re really pleased about the growth that we continue to see with Savannah’s tourism numbers,” said Visit Savannah president Joseph Marinelli.
Visit Savannah has been working with Longwoods to obtain visitor data since 2009. The data comes through their travel study, Travel USA.
Each quarter Longwoods sends out thousands of email surveys to people who have indicated that they’ve traveled in the last 12 months. After answering questions about their travel habits if they indicate that they’ve traveled to Savannah they’re prompted with a new set of Savannah specific questions.
Longwoods also looks at hotel/motel tax reports, sales tax reports and occupancy reports to generate the annual data.
According to the survey, about $1 billion was spent on lodging; $785 million on food and beverage; $502 on retail; $359 on recreation and $322 on transportation and Marinelli said the increase in spending reflects the overall product in the local market, which has added several new, higher-end additions including The Perry Lane Hotel, Alida hotel, Husk and La Scala.
The total number of visitors also increased to 14.5 million compared to 14.1 million in 2017. About 6.2 million of those visitors were day-trippers and 8.2 million overnight visitors, who are also staying a bit longer with the average length of stay increasing to 2.6 nights from 2.4 nights in 2017.
As visitor numbers continue to grow Visit Savannah is putting forth an effort to make sure they see all Savannah has to offer outside of downtown. In early 2018 organization rolled out a new website with features that made it easier for visitors to visit Savannah’s many neighborhoods such as the Victorian District and the Starland District.
“We’re beginning, at least through social media chatter, to see that our younger visitors are migrating to those parts of town. They dig those kinds of places like Bull Street Taco and the Vault,” Marinelli said.
“It’s really spreading out the visitors where forever they’ve been going to River Street, City Market and Broughton Street and now we see more visitors pushing out to areas like that. As we look down the road at Plant Riverside District and Eastern Wharf on the horizon, that spread should continue.”
Almost 40% of overnight visitors were here visiting friends and relatives with the top feeder markets being Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, New York and North Carolina. Most day-trippers, 36%, were also in town to visiting friends and relatives.
While most travelers showed an interest in Savannah’s historic sights and cultural activities more and more visitors are participating in wine tastings and brewery tours each year.
“Two years ago tastings didn’t even show up on the list, but this year both wine tastings and beer tastings jumped up nicely and I think that speaks to things like Two Tides Brewing, Ghost Coast and Southbound. The popularity of those kinds of attractions continue to grow,” Marinelli said.
Some other changes among visitors last year include a slight uptick in female travelers, up 57% from 54% percent and about 20% of visitors said they traveled alone, which was a new question this year.
While Savannah like Nashville and Charleston, has become a hot spot for bachelorette parties and girlfriend getaways, Marinelli said conventions likely contribute to the presence of solo travelers.
“We had a very strong convention year last year and convention travelers tend to be one per room, so when you have an increase in convention bookings you’re going to have more single occupancy than double,” he said.
New rooms, new visitors
Looking ahead, while there might be some leveling off in the numbers, Marinelli doesn’t expect the hundreds of new hotel rooms in the pipeline to go unbooked and he points to the first quarter of 2019 as an example of the interest in the Hostess City.
“In January, February, March of 2018 we did not have The Perry Lane Hotel, which didn’t open until June and we did not have the Alida, which opened in November. This year we had 330 more rooms and some would argue higher end price points than we had a year ago and we still have recording breaking occupancy rates, hotel, motel tax collections and average rates,” he said.
“The historic district for the month of March this year ran at 89.7% occupancy. That’s phenomenal when you think that we added 330 rooms and we didn’t have 330 cheap rooms.”
As the market continues to absorb the new inventory, Marinelli also predicts a continued evolution in the type of visitors that come here.
“They’re coming for the experience. They’re coming Mashama (Bailey’s) James Beard award-winning cooking, they’re coming for the entertainment complex that Plant Riverside is going to be, they’re coming for the uniqueness of Eastern Wharf,” he said, adding that it’s important to remember that the Savannah visitor experience is vastly different than it was in past decades.
“I think those folks who wonder about the tipping point, they think in the context of what Savannah’s visitor experience has been the last 30 years and what we look at in this organization is a much more expanded overall visitor experience with $500,000 million worth of development happening along the riverfront, an expanded convention center with a hotel on Hutchinson Island... It’s always fit into this box, but the box is getting bigger all around, so they’re not just all on Broughton Street.”
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