And it’s hardly a one-time blip. The numbers for the tourism industry, much like the statistics down on the docks at Savannah’s busy port, keep going up, up, up.
There’s no question that this robust tourism trend helps the local economy in major ways. But is it sustainable? ...
According to the Longwood’s International TravelUSA, which did the latest study, 13 million visitors came to Savannah last year (up from 12.4 million in 2013). They spent $2.29 billion, up nearly 11 percent from $2.07 billion spent in 2013.
For those who wonder what’s behind Savannah’s hotel construction boom or how all these new hotels can stay open, there’s the answer. It’s a version of the movie “Field of Dreams.” Build them. And they will come.
The plus sides are obvious — money and jobs. The Tourism Leadership Council estimates that the industry employs more than 22,000 people directly. That’s one in seven employed people, the TLC reports.
When you consider that Savannah still has a chronically high percentage of poor people (a 28 percent poverty rate, at last count), the availability of jobs is critical. A paycheck is an escape route out of poverty. For many in this industry, that first paycheck was a stepping stone to a career.
A tourism boom has positive ripple effects in other areas, too. The greater the desire to visit Savannah, the more probable low-cost airlines will consider providing service here. Property values tend to go up when areas become more desirable. Blight and under-utilized properties tend to fix themselves.
On the flip side, there’s only so much space in Savannah. And that creates political and business pressures, which in turn creates conflicts ... At some juncture, Savannah’s political, business and community leaders must have a serious conversation about such issues. It’s important to tend to the lifeblood of the economy. But so is tending to what’s at the heart.