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CITY TALK: Participate in tourism survey or get missed

The city and several other organizations are working on a tourism management plan. You can find an online survey about tourism in Savannah at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/TourismManagementPlanSurvey.

I would encourage readers of this column to add narrative comments in addition to clicking the various boxes. The surge in tourism over the last few years has raised some hard questions about Savannah’s past, present and future, and small choices that we make today could have profound impacts in the coming decades.

How can you know that your voice will be heard?

Well, we can never be sure that our voices are heard, but I have fairly high hopes for this project.

The City of Savannah is funding a good portion of the development of the plan, and other partners include the Downtown Neighborhood Association, Visit Savannah, Historic Savannah Foundation and Tourism Leadership Council. City officials also secured a $10,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Among other questions, the survey asks respondents to rank 10 different tourism-related issues in terms of importance. All of the issues seem important, but I think the most critical areas focus on residential quality of life, preservation of the Savannah’s heritage and culture, and the development of viable career paths related to tourism.

You will also find a question that seeks input on a statement of vision developed after a series of meetings in 2012: “Savannah tourism embraces its vibrant future while maintaining its historical integrity and respecting the unique residential and pedestrian quality of life. Our community must be balanced, sensitive, and well-managed to assert an enhanced quality of life for residents and a high-quality visitor experience.”

I reserve the right to nitpick that statement in an upcoming column, but it hits a lot of the right notes.

The survey also has an interesting question about trying to get tourists looking beyond the usual Historic District destinations.

I don’t know why anyone would encourage large numbers of tourists to visit Hutchinson Island or the undeveloped Savannah River Landing, but there are many sites and many stories that deserve more attention, especially ones that relate to African American history and ones that showcase our coastal environment.

In his excellent lecture last year at the Savannah Theatre, former Charleston mayor Joe Riley emphasized that we have the power to curate the experiences of tourists.

No, we can’t eliminate tensions and pressures caused by tourism, but we can make more thoughtful choices.

City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

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