Visitors to the Hostess City opened their wallets more than ever before in 2017 contributing nearly $3 billion in visitor spending throughout the year.
According to the annual Visit Savannah Visitor Study compiled by Longwoods International visitors spent $2.91 billion, which was up four percent over 2016 spending.
The overall numbers of visitors to the city also set a new record increasing from 13.9 million to 14.1 million, an increase of just over one and a half percent.
“That’s really sticking to our business plan of it’s not necessarily more, more, more visitors, but its increased spending, which is where our focus has been for the last few years,” said Visit Savannah president Joseph Marinelli.
Marinelli attributes the overall growth and demand to hotel prices, new products in the market such as higher end restaurants including The Grey, Husk and Atlantic and new retail offerings.
“I think it’s across the board. That all contributed to the increase spending in the community, which at the end of the day is also what keeps people working,” he said.
“Businesses are making money and they have the ability to add staff… It keeps growing and we’re really pleased with that.”
Overnight visitors, who stayed an average of 2.4 days, spent the bulk of their cash on lodging, contributing $1 billion to accommodations, followed by food and beverages with $535 million and retail with $314 million. Day trippers spent $226 on food and beverages, followed by $175 in the retail sector and $98 on recreation experiences.
Shopping also remains the most popular activity with visitors as it has for a number of years, with 41 percent of people buying Savannah goods to take home.
“Shopping could mean Savannah Candy Kitchen or 24e, but the reality of it is, what people remember is, ‘hey, I bought something in City Market or River Street,’” he said.
Visitors are also taking advantage of the area’s growing number of breweries such as Southbound Brewing and Moon River Brewing with tours and tastings ranking as the fourth most popular special interest activity.
“People are remembering that they enjoyed those ‘maker tours’ and again a couple of years ago those didn’t even show up on the list, so that surprised me a little bit, but a pleasant surprise,” Marinelli said.
The bulk of visitors come from Atlanta, which has been the top feeder marker for several years. Jacksonville and South Carolina round out the top three markets, but other Florida markets continue to bump up on the list including, Palm Beach, Miami and Ft. Lauderdale.
“We continue to court (JetBlue) to potentially add non-stop service to Ft. Lauderdale, so it’s nice to see those two markets show up on our top 10 list,” Marinelli said.
“It’s important for them to know that those folks are coming and more of those folks are coming and they could get here on an hour flight versus a six hour drive.”
Visitor trips to the area were spread evenly throughout the year, with a slight drop from October to December, which Marinelli attributes to Hurricane Irma.
“The three hardest hit states were Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, and those are our three most significant feeder markets, so we see that fall off in Q4 slightly, but it did bounce back once we got to the New Year, but reality shows up in the numbers,” he said.
Marinelli estimates that 10percent to 12 percent of yearly visitors are international, with Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and Australia rounding out the top markets, which Marinelli said is typical for this part of the United States.
While most visitors continue to book hotel stays or stay with friends and relatives, the growing share-economy such as Airbnb and vacation rentals continue to climb higher and higher on the accommodations list each year.
“A couple of years ago those categories did not appear or were on the very bottom of the list, but you see more and more people interested in that shared rental experience,” he said.
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