Updated: Wed, 02/20/2013 - 01:03

Tourism: A unique factory churning in Savannah

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Michael Owens president/CEO of the Tourism Leadership Council
Michael Owens president/CEO of the Tourism Leadership Council
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We have a unique kind of factory churning in Savannah. Tourism, the second largest industry, may not seem like a factory, but think of it like a car.

Building a car takes a multitude of people working together day and night. The designers have a vision. Advertisers promote it. Sales teams encourage people to buy it. And workers build it, ensuring it has the quality and reliability customers have come to expect.

The designers of our tourism vehicle help preserve our area, inviting people to share in our history and appreciate our culture. They envision a safer Savannah by having people populate once lonely streets. They imagine places for people to sleep, eat and play.

They picture Savannah with amazing ambiance and thriving businesses that raise property values, keep our streets safe and our squares green.

The 22,000 local workers who build tourism are your neighbors, people working day after day to provide an unforgettable experience for visitors and citizens alike. They are a collective of small business owners and their employees.

They include lodging properties, restaurants, food and beverage distributors, caterers, tour companies, museums, retail shops, printers, banks, nonprofit associations, law offices and the countless other companies touched by the tourism industry.

Visit Savannah acts as the advertiser by helping to bring in 12 million visitors to Savannah every year. This is a well-oiled machine focusing their marketing efforts outside Savannah. They bring a host of accolades. Recently, U.S. News & World Report featured Savannah in “Best U.S. Vacation Cities.” This is another feather in the cap of Visit Savannah’s team and another point of pride for those of us fortunate enough to call Savannah home.

The events arm of our factory operates like the sales and promotion team. The Savannah Riverfront Association hosts dozens of events specifically designed to bring people to Savannah to celebrate with us and enjoy what we as locals get to experience every day.

Who we are

The Tourism Leadership Council (TLC) represents the designers and the workers.

Our designers are the major leaders in the industry looking at the future of tourism in Savannah. Our board of directors promotes responsible tourism and characterizes community involvement. Local tourism businesses donate millions of dollars of in-kind and hundreds of thousands in cash donations each year to nonprofit organizations. Support of the community is at the heart of our industry.

Tourism businesses also brought in $651,462 last year to the historical preservation fee. Additionally, Savannah/Chatham County collected $15.5 million in room tax revenue in 2011. These taxes pay for police officers, help build and maintain parks and keep our streets clean.

Most importantly, we represent the workers, the one in seven in Savannah whose job depends on a thriving economy. While some other industries offer jobs, tourism offers career opportunity. Many of the executives leading the top businesses started out as a valet, a server or a housekeeper. No other industry allows someone to start at the bottom and work their way up as quickly as in tourism.

This week, we honor our tourism workers at the 15th Annual Tourism Awards and Scholarship Dinner. One of the top awards will go to a person who serves in what many consider a modest position. This person embodies the hospitable and dedicated spirit for which Savannah is widely known. We celebrate the selfless people who make tourism and our community great.

The TLC started with an idea. In 1997, seven tourism and hospitality professionals had a vision to establish an organization that would support the local tourism industry with programs, scholarships and investment in our city’s future. Thirty-seven businesses contributed $1,000 each, and the first TLC meeting was held in July 1998.

Since then, the organization has grown to hundreds of member businesses. The TLC enjoys a diverse membership of businesses large and small with the belief that when we come together under one umbrella, we strengthen our voice as an industry that boasts a $1.94 billion local economic impact.

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

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