February 2015

Savannah, Ga., is the real deal for meetings

by Tyler Davidson

Groups looking for authenticity and an enigmatic atmosphere steeped in history can find their dream destination beneath the storied oak-draped squares of Savannah, Ga.

While many other major meetings destinations may offer a processed slice of the iconic in master-planned entertainment districts—and there’s nothing wrong with, say, grabbing a “cheeseburger in paradise” in a cold-weather destination far flung from Key West—the history and mystery of the Old South and early America is unveiled with every step here.

“Savannah isn’t a facsimile of anywhere. It’s a truly unique, authentic experience,” says Jeff Hewitt, vice president of business development and destination services for Visit Savannah. “The city soaks you up more than you soak up the city.”

Boasting the largest historic district in the U.S., Savannah was laid out in 1733 with 24 park-like squares.

The leafy squares that ramble under intertwined oak trees and somewhat literally intoxicating atmosphere (don’t be afraid to grab a “go cup”) amount to an imminently walkable experience loaded with great food, culture and shopping opportunities for attendees.

Other highlights include a tourist-area footprint that includes some 250 shops.

On the horizon is a 160-room midscale property and a 400-room Kessler hotel on the river.

“In essence, we have about 750 riverfront rooms coming into the market, and there’s probably another 500 hotel rooms coming into the historic district,” Hewitt says, adding that a developer has plans to pour upwards of $200 million into the riverside Broughton Street shopping district.

“We’re often compared to Charleston,” Hewitt jokes about his destination rival to the north. “I heard someone say that if Charleston is the debutante, then Savannah must be the crazy cousin.”

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