City Talk today: How many tourists does Savannah want?

In my City Talk column today, How many tourists does Savannah want?, I mention three unresolved issues that all raise questions about tourism in Savannah:

How many tourists do we want? What kind of tourists do we want?

And what are we willing to do and to spend to get them here?

These seem to me to be the crucial questions surrounding a handful of current issues facing the region, including ideas to limit walking tours, to use public bonds to support the construction of a new convention-oriented hotel on Hutchinson Island and to bring cruise ships to Savannah.

I suspect (at least I hope) that the walking tour issue will fade into the background. If there are latenight tours that are making too much noise — and I’m pretty sure there are — then existing noise ordinances should address those issues. I fear, though, that the current complaints about walking tours might be another one of those issues that runs rampant in the downtown Savannah echo chamber, where residents latch onto minor issues like they were major ones and don’t stop until something, anything, is done. Jane Jacobs used the term “squelchers” (defined in various places on the web as “those political, business, and civic leaders that divert human creative energy by posing roadblocks and saying ‘no’ to new ideas”) and I think that might be relevant here too. Over the last decade or so, there have been individual forces for ‘no’ in the downtown area whose isolated voices have been given far too much power.

Rather than talking about limiting walking tours, we should be talking about how to get as many tourists out of their cars as possible. Oglethorpe’s grid has responded well to the advent of the automobile, but it’s really a city designed for foot travel and commerce.

Comically, one commenter at the end of my SavannahNow column wants more “substance.” Well, it’s a 450-word column (my Tuesday limit) that is consciously trying to address the big questions and not get caught up in details. If we want tourism to grow, we can do things to make it grow — the cruise terminal, the convention hotel, etc. Or we can settle in and say that enough of our downtown economy — land for hotels, retail emphasis, etc. — has already been devoted to tourism. But that means finding new ways for downtown to thrive, probably through increased residential density and higher commercial property occupancy rates, especially for the office sector. And that means better city decisions in terms of parking, taxation, promotion, and other areas.

2 comments for “City Talk today: How many tourists does Savannah want?

  1. May 31, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    I welcome the question about what type of tourist. How much of a beer drinking, go-cup city reputation do we want? How much of a socially cultured, historical, religious city does the city want? What about the arts and food? Why do Savannah’s museums get such a low percent of the tourist inside when tour busloads marvel from the architecture outside. I don’t support Jim Williams actions to hang the disgusting Nazi flag, but his point to reap rewards for what his share of presenting Savannah so well. Sadly, ultra low percentages of tourists actually go inside Savannah’s most beautiful places. Are they the carrot to bait and switch? It would be worth re-looking at the cultured travelers’ broad interests and bring more of what’s inside authentic to Savannah’s true self — the classic to the eclectic blend while there is a more active discussion about what is the desirable in the tourism / residential / business mix. I anticipate we’ll see that on the movie screen soon when “Savannah” is released. Look to the City of Savannah’s City Hall statues — arts and commerce. City fathers laid a solid vision, but it takes more than statues to commemorate their wisdom in the most beautiful city in North America. There should be a better social and tourist mix, in my opinion.

  2. matthew
    June 1, 2011 at 7:28 am

    As a former and soon to be again downtown resident, being a tourist area is a mixed bag. Not only do the throngs of extra people help prop up the economy and allow us a wider diversity of dining and retail oppurtunites than we would have otherwise, but all the extra eyes on the streets make everyone safer. I love walking through town at night with trolleys driving past and walking tours herding people through the squares, it is just that much safer.

    However, when it takes twenty minutes to get to your post office box on Telfair square because you are stuck behind three trolleys and a horsedrawn carriage, you do begin to curse the whole enterprise. Or when we lived on Telfair square and you always heard the same part of the tour guides speal reverberating through your courtyard “This is the home of Mary Telfair…”

    I think we all dream of having more cultural tourism, less drinking partiers, but how we accomplish that is the challenge. Obviously the rise of the Music Festival and the Film Festival are a great start.

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