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Owens: Celebrate 5th anniversary of Savannah Food & Wine Festival

If you’re like me, you have a five-year plan. And, there’s nothing more exhilarating that seeing that plan come to reality.

In 2012, the Tourism Leadership Council’s 13-year old Taste of Savannah had grown stale. That year, Chairman of the Board Mark Spadoni set forth a goal to “Think Big. Act Big. Be Relevant.”

As the new president/CEO, I jumped at the chance to bring life to the Taste of Savannah. So, longtime TLC member and supporter Diane Rousakis, On-Premise Sales manager for United Distributors, told me about someone who also wanted to see a food and wine festival come to Savannah. I met Jan Gourley, owner of AdFish Group, and the plans to expand the Taste of Savannah into a week-long Savannah Food &Wine Festival were put into motion.

“It was a key catalyst in changing the perception of the Savannah Culinary scene, a huge draw for what historically was a shoulder season and continues to be a vehicle in raising charitable dollars to help our community. It changed the community’s perception from us as an organization primarily focused inwardly on our industry to one that leverages through its (hospitality community) the diverse skills and talent that helps showcase Savannah to the world,” said Spadoni, general manager of the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort &Spa.

This year marks the fifth anniversary of the Savannah Food &Wine Festival, and it will be held Nov. 6-12, 2017 at various locations from Savannah to Pooler.

“The festival’s culinary high profile has helped showcase media attention on our area and the festival’s many participating restaurants, chefs, bartenders, hotels and partners,” said Joseph Marinelli, president of Visit Savannah.

This weeklong celebration of gourmet food and wine also has a strong positive economic impact on our community, bringing guests into Savannah during a slower season. And, it gives us locals something to do the week after the Rock and Roll Marathon.

“Not only has the Savannah Food and Wine Festival filled a need period for the hospitality community in Savannah but it has quickly become one of the most anticipated events of the year — for guests and for locals!” said Whip Triplett, executive vice president at North Point Hospitality.

Thousands visited our city, with the largest drive markets being Jacksonville, Atlanta, and Tampa. But guests came from other parts of the country as well, including Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C. Most of these guests planned their trip specifically with the festival in mind.

This economic impact totaled $7 million in 2016 and has had a ripple effect in our area. Guests who visited Savannah for the festival’s events stayed in our lodging properties, ate in our delicious restaurants, shopped in our stores and visited our many attractions.

More than 50 percent of guests spent more than $100 per day at restaurants, and these guests stayed for an average of three nights. In fact, most stayed here for three nights or more and spent between $100-400 per night on lodging.

While the economic impact is certainly something to celebrate, we’re most proud of the work we’ve done with local charities. We donate proceeds to local charities and nonprofit organizations that we partner with for various events.

In five years, the festival has given more than $150,000 to local charities, including the West Broad Street YMCA, the 200 Club of the Coastal Empire, America’s Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia, the Coastal Heritage Society, Chatham-Savannah Authority for the Homeless, and many others. Independently of that, we also raise money for our very own TLC Scholarship Fund that has awarded more than $80,000 in scholarships to students studying hospitality and tourism.

There’s no way any of this could have happened without the help of the hundreds of volunteers it takes to make this festival happen. They spend hours of work before, during and after .

“I have had the pleasure of working with the festival since its inception. It’s incredible to see how far we have come since that first year, both in number of attendees and the number of events,” said Jackie Schott, Volunteer Admissions chair of the Savannah Food &Wine Festival.

Come join us at this year’s 5th anniversary Savannah Food &Wine Festival and celebrate the success of a five-year plan.

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Michael Owens is president/CEO of the Tourism Leadership Council and co-founder of the Savannah Food &Wine Festival (www.SavannahFoodandWineFestival.com) Email him at michael@savannahfoodandwinefest.com or call 912-232-1223.

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