This may not shock you, but it was a surprise to some of the people I was talking to the other day.
I asked this group of friends, “What do you think is the number one thing our guests do when the 12 million plus people come visit Savannah?”
If you’re like my friends, you may have guessed taking a tour. It’s true many of the millions take tours.
But, the number one activity our visitors engage in is shopping. It was an eye opener for something that we don’t often think of: retail is tourism.
So, if tourism in Savannah is a $2.07 billion industry, what are retailers doing to get their piece of the pie?
President of the Savannah Downtown Business Association (SDBA), Ruel Joyner believes retailers can do more to work with tourism.
“The numbers speak for themselves. Without tourism, my business, 24e would not exist in Savannah,” said Joyner.
He believes that retailers, especially in downtown, could look beyond normal business hours to expand their reach to our city’s guests.
It’s true. After guests eat and drink at one of the many fine restaurants downtown, they don’t want to go back to their hotels. They want to see more of what Savannah has to offer.
Darkened doors don’t attract customers like a shop that leaves the lights on.
The added cost of electricity and staffing a shop beyond regular business hours just might pay off.
According to Longwoods International, the industry’s oldest travel research quarterly in the U.S., 43% of all our visitors in 2012 reported that shopping was what they did when they came to Savannah.
Just to give you an idea of how high that percentage is, the norm for the United States is 34% for other American travel destinations.
It also means that our city’s visitors spend nearly $400 million a year shopping -- that’s more than they spend on recreation and transportation while they’re here.
This translates into big profit margins for our retail stores.
So, it’s no wonder why many of these shops have learned other ways to target our visitors.
Savannah Candy Kitchen and River Street Sweets offer free samples and ways you can easily ship the candy home so the guests don’t have to carry the candy.
On Broughton Street, you’ll find The Salt Table handing out free samples of popcorn sprinkled with their exotic salts. And, next door, you can’t walk out of nourish without smelling like their sweet, homemade soaps.
Further still, retailers target the front line staff at hotels. They prepare samples and information about their products and hand deliver those items to area hotels. They know that when they do this, they’re getting their product in the hands of the people who recommend to their guests where to go shopping.
Another thing that retails shops do is network. We, at the Tourism Leadership Council teamed up with the SDBA to offer networking opportunities where the retailers can connect with tourism professionals.
For tourism, the second largest industry in Savannah, it’s not hard to see how retail plays a big part.
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