Courtesy Savannah CVB
With its antebellum ambiance, Low Country cuisine and storied historic district, Savannah offers a setting that meeting guests can’t resist.
In fact, convention attendance often spikes as much as 20 percent when Savannah is the site. Bill Strehl, conference director for the Learning Resource Network in Fulton, Md., saw this firsthand when the international association met in Savannah in November.
The three-day meeting at the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center drew 650 members — more than expected during the economic downturn.
“People are so fascinated by Savannah that an event we held during the conference at Chippewa Square drew 400 people; the most we’ve had at any one event in 15 years,” said Strehl.
Trust Savannah to add atmosphere to its convention center, which sits on Hutchinson Island in the Savannah River across from Historic River Street. Although bridges are available, attendees often prefer to take a free five-minute cruise to the center by water ferry.
The waterfront convention center can host up to 5,000 people in 330,000 square feet of meeting space that includes a 100,000-square-foot exhibit hall and a 25,000-square-foot ballroom. The adjacent, newly-renovated Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort and Spa has 403 rooms and about 35,000 square feet of meeting space.
“Overall, Savannah has 15,000 hotel rooms,” said Bill McKay, vice president of sales, Savannah CVB. “Our newest are in the 151-room AVIA Savannah Hotel, which is located in the newly restored Ellis Square, one of the city’s 22 original tree-lined public squares.”
In fact, many of the city’s convention hotels and meeting venues reside near the towering oaks and pre-Civil War mansions of the 2.5-square-mile historic district. These include the 387-room Savannah Riverfront Marriott with 36,000 square feet of meeting space, the Hyatt Regency Savannah with 355 rooms and 33,000 square feet of meeting space, and the 246-room Hilton Savannah DeSoto, which has 20,000 square feet of meeting space. Meeting venues include the Savannah Civic Center, with a 9,600-seat arena and meeting space for 500, and the Coastal Georgia Center, which has a 350-person auditorium.
Because of the city’s exceptionally strong leisure tourism market, the CVB promotes a Sunday through Wednesday stay for groups. Meeting targets include state government conventions, national and mid-Atlantic association meetings and military reunions drawn by nearby military bases and the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum. Built to honor a renowned local World War II fighting unit, the museum accommodates 200-person meetings and 600-person receptions.
“Two other interesting locations for off-site events are Old Fort Jackson and Fort Pulaski National Monument, which are both located on the Savannah River,” said McKay. “Groups can first board the River Street Riverboat for a reception, then dock at one of the forts for a Low Country boil.”
An 1820s mansion on Telfair Square — the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences — is an elegant setting for 350-person receptions and 200-person banquets. Its sister property, the Jepson Center for the Arts, was the site of a reception last August for 350 members of the Governors Highway Safety Association, part of the group’s annual conference at the convention center.
“The Savannah CVB staff was extremely professional and helpful in planning this event for attendees from around the country,” said Matt Montgomery, public information, Governor’s Office of Highway Safety in Atlanta. “The meeting was extremely well attended, and one of the main reasons is that people just love to come to Savannah.”
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