For over 50 years there has been very little of Savannah in the national media that hasn’t focused upon either its success in preservation or its value as a tourist destination. The heavy branding which the Chamber of Commerce and, its foot soldier, Visit Savannah have accomplished is beneficial to the hospitality industry but of little benefit beyond it.
Visit Savannah is funded via the 6% tax on hotel/motel stays justifying its focus, however the Chamber of Commerce itself should be concerned with promoting all industrial sectors and in particular on bringing a healthy balance to the area’s economy.
The city government and, as well, Savannah’s business and civic leadership have been complicit in the stereotyping of the city as a Deep South ‘has been’ with only its past to offer as an asset. The city’s choice of emblems, private and public sector, chiefly aim to evoke a historical note rather than a modern city with a future that is bigger and more exciting than its past.
The city’s economy has been largely stunted now for more than 100 years, it being sustained only by shipping, one of its very first industries (and only significant due to the economic growth experienced elsewhere in the sunbelt, especially Atlanta); paper mills which for much of their life presented a vile odor for those entering the city; and more recently the rise of tourism and its low wage economics.
A true measure of a city’s performance is its philanthropic resources. Compared to other cities, even much smaller and much younger ones, Savannah has a paltry amount of such resources. Philanthropic foundations are typically the result of many decades of wealth building by local entrepreneurs, something Savannah has seen little of since the days of railroad building.
Despite the paucity of economic advancements, the city has a number of positive and appealing images, natural and man-made, that evoke evidence of life in Savannah that is not centered around history or port activity. These need to be put front and center in the media with at least as much vigor as it puts into pushing tourism.