Forsyth fountain, Savannah
Savannah is one America’s oldest cities, dating back to 1733 when it was developed by James Edward Oglethorpe and a band of English settlers. The combination of rich history and one-of-a-kind venues creates a totally unique backdrop for groups. The city is growing, now able to accommodate larger groups with the Savannah International Trade & Convention Center and big brand meeting hotels. But it’s what happens after your meeting that will really set the city apart. Create a totally unique event at one of the many Civil War sites within the city or explore the endless culinary options at one of the many famous restaurants. We spoke with Jeff Hewitt, vp of business development & destination services for Visit Savannah, to learn more about large meetings in Savannah.
PREVUE: What is the biggest misconception about Savannah?
Jeff Hewitt: We are known to only host small meetings, but in fact, we have the accommodations and meeting space to host much larger groups. Savannah has always been known as a charming vacation destination, but we want to get the message out that we can host much larger groups for national meetings and conventions.
We’ve seen a significant increase in future group bookings over the last few years. We’ve developed a business plan that has targeted the national association and corporate world for larger meetings.
What attracts groups to Savannah?
We are the oldest historic district in the nation that is married to a young, hip and exciting destination that a lot of people don’t think of until they get here. Our historic venues include the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD). SCAD has acquired a lot of the city’s historic venues and converted them into modern spaces. That has had an incredible impact on the destination. The youth and the vibrance that comes with the college campus is a beautiful combination that brings a young energy to the historic district. It brings a bright light to Savannah.
We have great nightlife here. River Street is our version of Bourbon Street in New Orleans, it has that same nightlife appeal. You step out of your meeting room and onto a genuine, authentic destination with endless personal cuisine, fine dining, bars, the riverfront, pubs, music venues and the open container laws. We are unique place where you can enjoy the riverfront with a drink in hand, creating a totally fun, social vibe. You really need to get out an experience it. You don’t need to travel to get there, it’s right outside your hotel room door.
What is the most popular venue for large groups?
Our largest venue is our 330,000-sf Trade Center. It’s a waterfront facility with 100,000-sf of exhibit space and an expansive lawn in front of the building with views of the city and the waterfront. It’s just a breathtaking view and a beautiful venue. The beauty of it is that you’ve got backup space within the trade center, you’ve got the patio area where you can setup food and beverage and you’ve got the visual of the city over the water. It’s totally convenient because they can enjoy the city directly after the meeting in the convention center. It’s all connected via a water shuttle that is a free service. The shuttle runs across the river from the trade center to the historic riverfront. There are docks that land at the Hyatt Regency Savannah and the Savannah Marriott Riverfront, two of our large group hotels. Our other group hotels include The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa, which is located walking distance from the convention center. The Hilton Garden Inn Savannah Historic District is just a couple of blocks away. We have several boutique properties in addition to the large name brand hotels within the city.
What makes Savannah such a successful group destination?
Savannah is a movie mecca with over 100 films that have been filmed in the city. You can walk around and view the backdrop to your favorite film, that’s a very popular activity. Of course, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and “Forrest Gump” are the two most recognizable films that were shot here. There’s also a haunted element. Savannah has been named one of the most haunted cities in the country, so there are lots of ghost tours and walking tours, carriage ride tours, pub crawls and several fun things that can be done in that respect.
The culinary aspect is an experience of its own. We have so many wonderful restaurants. We recommend doing a dine-around because we are so famous for our quality Southern cooking. Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room is a great group experience. That’s the place that gave Paula Dean her inspiration. You sit family-style and the staff continues to bring plates of friend chicken, pulled pork, barbecue, sweet potatoes, okra, green beans, mashed potato’s and much, much more. When you are done, you bus your own table. Believe it or not, groups get a kick out of it. That’s one of our iconic restaurants here. The Olde Pink House is another well-known venue as well. It’s a historic home that was built back in the 1700s.
There’s a historic and architectural element as well. You can walk through the city and you’ll see a different age of history on each block. Savannah was established in 1733, so when you start at the river, you’re starting at that point. As you move back through the city, you’re moving 100 years through history. It’s pretty fascinating for groups to go through so many eras of architecture.
How are groups using the historic venues in new and unique ways?
Some of our larger historic venues include a Civil War fortress called Fort Jackson. We had a group come in last year that had a river boat pull up to the hotel and pick up a group of 400 people. They traveled down river and were greeted by a cannon that was fired to welcome the group. They got off at the dock with their company flag waving in the air and their logo projected on the side of the building. They were met by a color guard filled with Union and Confederate soldiers. There was a fire blazing as they enjoyed an oyster roast for dinner. As the program ended there were fireworks overhead as they got back onto the boat to return to their hotels. It was a very dramatic event. This is Savannah, we are uniquely positioned to host special events like that.
Throughout the city squares there are monuments and fountains that groups use for venues. We also have Forsyth Park, the most iconic spot in the city. You’ll see a beautiful white fountain draped with oak draped Spanish moss. We recently hosted a national gymnastic competitions with 5,000 attendees at this venue. It was amazing to see the group welcomed by the mayor and the city dignitaries. There’s endless amounts of space here.