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OWENS: Tourism awards event honors visionary, champion

If you saw the Oscars last week, then you may still be cringing over the mistake at the very end of the show when the announcer mistakenly called the wrong name for the winner of Best Picture.

Anyone running an award presentation fears those mistakes that take the spotlight off the reason you’re all there in the first place.

At the Tourism Leadership Council, we’re gearing up for the 19th Annual Tourism Awards & Scholarship Dinner on Thursday at the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center.

We’ve long called it the “Oscars of Tourism.”

Like the Oscars, we’re going to pause and take a moment to reflect on the amazing work individuals have done in our tourism community. We’re also going to award scholarships to deserving students who are making plans to join our hospitality and tourism family.

This is a big reason to celebrate.

Tourism employs more people than any other industry in Savannah. And, as such, this industry thrives because of all of those who go above and beyond to delight the guests who come to Savannah.

We will be honoring so many who have built a life, a family and a career around tourism.

This year, our John P. Rousakis Community Champion award winner started as a breakfast cook. Today, Joseph Marinelli is president of Visit Savannah, our destination marketing organization. His award honors the legacy of former mayor John P. Rousakis and recognizes someone who strongly supports the tourism community through their involvement and work.

Since his move here in 2007, he has worked tirelessly to promote our city. His involvement on the TLC Board of Directors with the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center, Savannah Music Festival, Georgia Association of CVBs, and the Georgia Travel Association, as well as his innovative business plans with Visit Savannah, have helped us achieve record numbers for visitation, visitor spending and hotel tax collections.

This year’s Visionary Award honors the legacy of the late owners of The Pirates’ House and recognizes someone who consistently works to promote the growth of tourism and create a true sense of community in Savannah.

We’re excited to be honoring Bill Dickinson, owner of Wet Willies, for this award. He has been an influential member of the tourism community and has been since the opening of the first Wet Willies in 1990. He has been involved with many organizations over the years, such as the Savannah Waterfront Association, and constantly strives to help the city embrace and improve tourism.

In addition to these two awards, we will be honoring so many others, folks like Marcie Hill who has spent her career building and promoting our historic City Market into the destination it is today.

We’ll also have tables and tables of line-level employees and students who are studying to be in tourism as we celebrate a wonderful night.

You’re welcome to join us. Find out more at SavannahTourismAwards.com. And, we hope that if you do join us that we can learn from the mistakes of the Oscars and stick to a seamless awards presentation.

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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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