It’s hard to live in this city and not be touched by tourism.
If you’re not one of the 23,000 people who serve our city’s guests, then you may work for a company that supports the industry. That means the power company that lights the hotel rooms and the printing company that prints the menus are also “tourism.”
Sometimes tourism gets a bad rap from people who understandably get frustrated by the 12 million visitors who sometimes slow traffic or crowd the crosswalks. It’s a small price to pay for the $2.07 billion economic impact the industry makes locally, but did you know there’s more to tourism than just the money it brings?
This holiday season, I’ve been thinking about the charitable side of the tourism industry.
The industry gives back and supports the community by promoting, planning, and funding special events that engage the community and children.
For example, the Festival of Lights, that began its second year last week, is brought to you by people in the tourism industry. All of the fireworks and the amazing events along River Street are only possible because of the tourism dollars.
If you’ve ever won a restaurant gift certificate at a charity function, then you can believe that the restaurant donated that prize. How about a hotel stay or a vacation package?
In fact, thousands of tourism businesses donate products and services worth hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. That doesn’t include the major sponsorships made to charitable organizations as direct dollar donations.
I contacted several leaders in the industry to ask how much they donated to area non-profits every year. One of the bigger hoteliers gave me a conservative estimate of more than $50,000 annually going to organizations that are helping to feed the hungry, educate our children, and build a stronger community. That’s just one of the hundreds of local businesses.
Other tourism businesses, big and small, donate their time working directly with organizations to achieve their community goals. These are the tourism professionals who pay with their time and talent to organizations like Savannah Tree Foundation and the Live Oak Library System.
Tourism also provides industry leaders to serve on non-profit boards such as the Historic Savannah Foundation, Savannah Harbor Foundation, United Way, 200 Club, Rotary Club, and Savannah State Community Futures. Our community would not be the same without these and many other organizations like them.
The industry has also underwritten band and sports programs like South Effingham High School Band and the Savannah PALs, a youth crime prevention program that builds trust between police officers and youth.
Tourism also works closely with students from Armstrong Atlantic State University, Savannah Technical College, Virginia College, and the University of South Carolina Beaufort – to provide them with jobs out of college and train them to be the kind of tourism professional with a compassionate side.
Even our parties have purpose. Next week, tourism professionals will be celebrating their annual holiday party hosted by my organization, the Tourism Leadership Council, Visit Savannah, and Savannah Riverfront. The proceeds from that party will benefit the Frank Callen Boys & Girls Club of the Coastal Empire.
Last year, the party generated enough money to feed nearly 4000 people through America’s Second Harvest.
So, the next time you’re caught in a crosswalk. Slow down and wave at those tourists. They’re bringing in the jobs and industry that allows tourism to show its charitable side.
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