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Room Rates Down in Up Year for Visitors

SBJ Staff

12/21/2009 - The nation’s deep recession caused only a slight dip in 2009 demand for Savannah hotel rooms from the previous year’s record levels.

Visitors came, stayed and spent. But what they paid for their lodging turned a potential gold mine for hoteliers into a shafting of their bottom lines, as room rates dropped by near double-digit percentage rates.

Don’t look for a rescue of rates in 2010, says the tourism professional in charge of promoting Savannah as a leisure travel and convention destination. “I don’t see any reason at the moment for optimism in 2010,” said Joseph Marinelli, director of the Savannah Convention & Visitors Bureau. “For the tourism industry, our motto for next year is ‘less bad is good.’”

On the plus side, said Marinelli, “In 2009 we are seeing almost no change in the demand from 2008. …2007 and 2008 were the two best years for tourism in the history of Savannah.”

Hotel occupancies through September fell only 4.3 percent below the record levels of the previous year, he said, and noted the Historic District showed a drop of a mere 1.2 percent.

“The bad news is that hotel rates have slipped over 9 percent from a year ago, which obviously equates to less bed-tax collections.”

Fewer bed-tax dollars mean less money to promote Savannah to visitors. Hotel/motel tax collections, assessed based on each room sold, totaled $9,172,301 through early November. Last year’s 12-month total was $11,376,906, according to the city of Savannah’s Revenue Department.

Savannah’s occupancy rates put its hotels among the top performers in the Southeast, according to Marinelli.

Such cities as Charlotte, Atlanta and Jacksonville saw double-digit drops in hotel stays, he noted.

Localities in the rest of Georgia, he said, are on track to end the year down 10.2 percent in occupancy and an average 17.1 percent in room rates.

It’s the business traveler -– or the lack of them – that is inflicting the most pain on Savannah’s hospitality sector, as well as the hospitality industry nationwide,” Marinelli said.

“We must get corporate America traveling again,” he said.

With the business visitor, which also takes in those here for conventions and meetings, the task will be to counter a growing tendency of business and organizations to rely on new technology to keep them in touch, said Savannah hotel executive Mark Dana in an interview early in the fall.

Dana, the 2009 president of the Savannah Tourism Leadership Council, said things like electronic “company halls” are starting to replace in-person meetings and training sessions. Combine that with a reluctance of businesses and organizations to spend on travel and hotel stays and the thinking becomes: “the only certainty is uncertainty,” Dana said.

On the other hand, Marinelli said the business world knows nothing succeeds better than one-on-one contact.

Technology will never replace the sales process, he said.

“We’ve got to get them on the road seeing their customers again.”

And the day trippers need to be persuaded to stay overnight, says Charlie Brazil, president of Savannah’s Old Town Trolleys and 2010 president of the Tourism Leadership Council.

Savannah’s tour operators saw a 20 percent increase in business in 2009’s third quarter over the same period the previous year, according to Armstrong Atlantic State University’s Economic Monitor Q3 report.

“We measure our visitors a lot by hotel room tax, which is deceptive in that it’s not able to measure the day trippers,” Brazil said. “I think those folks showed up in droves.

“The challenge for our friends in the business is getting them to include an overnight stay” in their visits.

“We are still in many ways a drive-through market,” he added.

AS TLC president, Brazil will lead a broad range of businesses involved in Savannah’s visitor sector. He said he thinks many of them have slimmed down sufficiently to survive the prolonged recession.

“I think the lion’s share of adjustments have been made. Those that haven’t made the adjustments are the ones that haven’t been able to survive, unfortunately.”

While he said his trolley operation is on track to end the year up 9 percent over last year, for others in the hospitality sector, “this year hasn’t been a complete bust.”

In the current economy, Brazil said, there is some positive to saying “you’re looking to do the same as last year.”

On the whole, Tourism Leadership Council members are going into 2010 with an optimistic outlook, according to Brazil. “We think we’ll flirt with that 7 million number” for annual visitors, he said.

He cited the city of Savannah’s renewed effort to establish a sea-cruise terminal here as well as the growth in modes of reaching Savannah.

“The key for us is to remain united. And to make sure that for the guests who do visit, what we deliver measures up to their expectations.”

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New Owners Plan to Boost Bojangles’ Presence in Savannah

New promotional programs provide discounts to military personnel and funds for local groups

12/07/2009 - Two Southerners have taken over the Bojangles chicken franchise in the Savannah area, and have announced they will be adding two locations.

Under the new company name Gilbo, LLC. Gil Straub and Mike Curran have partnered to take over the Bojangles franchise in Savannah, to satisfy “Savannah residents’ craving for Bojangles’ “Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits,” according to the owners, taking over ownership of the brand’s restaurant at 29 W. DeRenne Ave.

The team plans to open two additional restaurants, the first new location slated for 2010.

“Bojangles’ has built a loyal following in Savannah. Our goal is to continue to grow the brand’s popularity with area residents who have never had the opportunity to experience Bojangles’ and with those who have loved it for years,” said Straub, operating partner of Gilbo, LLC, who co-owns the business with Mike Curran. “We are excited to be sharing our passion for Bojangles’ high quality food and service with the Savannah community.”

Straub and Curran’s belief in the Bojangles’ brand stems from six years of owning and operating the Bojangles’ location in York, S.C. They are now bringing their proven pattern of success with Bojangles’ to Savannah, and they are sharing their enthusiasm with local residents.

They’ve launched two new marketing efforts, including 10 percent discounts every day for military personnel and the hosting of “Local Charity Nights” whereby local school groups, community and religious organizations, local athletic teams and others who partner with their local Bojangles’ store will receive a portion of the store’s sales during the events to help these groups raise funds.

Additionally, the restaurant plans to provide free Bojangles’ cups for use by local high school athletic teams during home games. Any group or organization interested in partnering with Bojangles’ to raise funds can contact the local store directly or contact Gil Straub at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

“We define ourselves by the community in which we live because we have become so engrained in it with every aspect of our lives,” added Straub, who has been involved in the restaurant industry for 30 years, since the age of 15. “Bojangles’ has built its reputation on being active in the community it serves so it fits very nicely with who we are as business owners and Savannah residents.”

Struab’s wife, Sylvia, is involved in the local community as a local high school teacher in Savannah’s public school system.

Bojangles was founded in 1977 in Charlotte and now has more than 450 total locations in 10 states with more than 290 franchises, and 160 company operated locations. By the end of 2009, Bojangles’ will have more than 470 locations open according to the company.
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OSHA Addresses Need for Combustible Dust Standard

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will publish an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) in the Oct. 21 edition of the Federal Register as an initial step in development of a standard to address the hazards of combustible dust.

“It’s time for workers to stop dying in preventable combustible dust explosions,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “Workplace safety is not a slogan. It’s a priority clearly embodied by our laws.”

In February 2008, 14 workers lost their lives in a combustible dust explosion at Imperial Sugar in Port Wentworth. Since 1980, more than 130 workers have been killed and more than 780 injured in combustible dust explosions, according to acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Jordan Barab.

Support for a combustible dust standard came from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board in 2006 and again in 2008 during a congressional hearing when the board said a new standard, combined with enforcement and education, could ave workers’ lives.

Combustible dust are solids ground into fine particles, fibers, chips, chunks or flakes that can cause a fire or explosion when suspended in air under certain conditions. Types of dust likely to combust include metal (aluminum and magnesium), wood, plastic, rubber, coal, flour, sugar and paper.
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New Year Bringing New Leadership to Chamber of Commerce

SBJ Staff

The Savannah Area Chamber caps one of the toughest years in decades for its business members with a leadership change at its annual meeting Dec. 17 at the Savannah Marriott Riverfront.

The pressure that the economic distress put on businesses both large and small greatly increased the business organization’s importance as the place to find support, network and gain insights into  successfully navigating the worst economy since the Great Depression.  And as a result, the chamber’s membership numbers finished strong, said Diana Morrison, the out-going chair who will turn the gavel over to Bert Tenenbaum, CEO of Chatham Steel, at the annual gathering.

Morrison, who has owned and operated Advertising Specialty Services in Savannah since 1988, said the organization kept 85 percent of its membership during a time many small businesses closed and corporate entities moved their operations to headquarters elsewhere.

“Typical for us is about 87 percent” retention, she said. “It’s been a tough year for businesses large and small. As a chamber, we have been very fortunate to have a very high retention rate.”

The chamber winds up 2009 with about 2,245 company members. That amounts to about 6,000 individual members, Morrison noted.

“Most chambers in a good year would love to have that sort of retention,” said Tenenbaum, the incoming chairman.
Adding to the satisfaction of the stable membership levels is that the chamber achieved it without the  enthusiasm generated each year by a Resource Campaign, which until this year had been an annual practice. Companies loan their up-and-coming managers and executives to the recruiting effort, normally.

But, the organization cancelled the drive for new members this year, an idea that Morrison suggested as chairman. As a small business owner, she knew that many companies would be hard-pressed to be able to contribute their employees’ time. Instead, Chamber board members were asked to get more involved in membership retention efforts.

“In the spring, we looked at the economic temperature of Savannah and member companies and did not think it was prudent to ask companies to lend us 110 of their employees for 10 weeks,” Morrison said.

Also, the chamber made a decision not to raise membership fees, according to Morrison, though a four percent increase for 2010 has been announced to members in bills just recently mailed.

Members also received the full schedule of events during the year with no cutbacks in networking sessions, lunch seminars and other activities, she said. “This chamber does a good job of listening to its members. We didn’t have to cut anything.”  Those offerings served as a key to keeping members, said Morrison.

That’s reflected in attendance at events, which rose about 10 percent over the previous year, she said. “There’s not hardly a week that you can’t attend a chamber or CVB (Convention and Visitors Bureau) event if you are interested in doing so.”
An opportunity to meet new people and strengthen relationships with friends and acquaintances is the draw, she said. “People see the value in the networking part of their chamber.”

Morrison is the third woman to chair the chamber in its 203-year history, sharing that distinction with Helen Head and Connie Farmer Ray.

She said she sees a new and savvier kind of business person is emerging from the trials of the economic downturn.  Business is operating in a new reality, she said, noting… “anybody who doesn’t understand this is naive.”

“Businesses large and small have re-created themselves to the new economy,” Morrison said. “We will come out of this smarter.”

The year as chair served as an eye-opener and will make her a more effective member of the chamber in the years ahead, she added, and will continue as a member of both the executive board and board of directors.

“The year after you’re chamber chair you really see what the needs are and how you affect them so much,” she said.
As her successor, Tenenbaum wants to focus on providing networking events for members, education programs and government advocacy.

The advocacy will be especially important as local, state and federal governments seek to adjust to the economic downturn, he noted.

Vigilance must be maintained for any kind of legislation that hampers job retention and growth or puts new taxes and fees on businesses, he said in interview Tuesday with the SBJ.

Tenenbaum is a current member of the SEDA board of directors, and serves on the Armstrong Atlantic State University’s Foundation board, as well.

Prior to being named president of Chatham Steel, Tenenbaum served as president of Durrett Sheppard Steel Company in Baltimore. He holds a B.A.. in Psychology from Emory University.

He is the past chair of the Savannah Community Foundation, and is a current board member. Additionally, he is a current board member of the Armstrong Atlantic Foundation and the Savannah Economic Development Authority, and was also the 2008-2009 Corporate Chair for the United Way of the Coastal Empire, as well as serving as the 2007 Campaign Chair.

Professionally, Tenenbaum is the Past President of the Metal Service Center Institute, Southern Chapter.

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Barrow to Host Financial Literacy Forum in Savannah

Times are tough, but there are ways for folks to save money, get out of debt and stay out of debt. Congressman John Barrow wants to do what he can to help folks learn smart money techniques. That's why he's bringing together local experts to haost a financial literacy forum in Savannah on Monday, Oct. 19. The forum will be held at Savannah State University's King-Frazier Student Center Ball room from 12 noon to 1 p.m.


"This is a great time to get some tips on how to make your money go further right now and how to plan for the future," said Barrow. "I hope folks will stop by and get some advice, and also learn how to steer clear of scams that cost more money than they're worth."


Throughtout the forum there will be a series of presentations on managing credit, choosing a bank and getting an early start on savings. experts will be on hand to answer specific questions folks may have.
Participants in the forum include Consumer Credit Counseling Services, Savannah State University Financial Aid Office, Visa, Georgia's Own Credit Union and The Savannah Bank.

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