SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – When News 3 caught up with Joe Marinelli from Visit Savannah on Zoom Tuesday, he was wearing a baseball cap and not his familiar business attire.
“I hate working from home,” he said. “I am a people person.”
Like many others these days, Marinelli is trying to adjust and navigating how to help sell the Hostess City to tourists once again when the coronavirus crisis has passed — whenever that might be.
For now, he talks about seeing empty downtown streets.
“It’s heartbreaking, ” he says. “I had the opportunity on Sunday to just do a quick loop around the historic district and, you know, here it is a beautiful 90 degree Sunday afternoon at the end of March. Our streets should be brimming with people, but now we have very few if any real visitors.”
Marinelli also had a word about a major hotel.
“I spoke to the general manager of the Westin yesterday. The hotel will formally close indefinitely on April 1,” he said. “So they’re the first of the big box hotels that I’m aware of that are closing and we also have a list of about eight, maybe nine or ten smaller properties around the historic district that have closed or are planning to close Wednesday.”
Monday afternoon, News 3 spoke with Scott Hart on River Street coming from his closed travel business. In terms of hotels closing, he said: ” I think in the short term it’s the right thing to do. We do need to protect people here first and take care of this virus and make it possible for tourism to return.”
Hart said he is probably like everyone else: “I’m just uncertain about what the next couple of months have in store but I am still optimistic about Savannah.”
Marinelli agrees saying this isn’t only affecting Savannah.
“All you have to do is turn on the TV and see empty streets at Times Square and nobody at Disney World,” he said. “We’re not alone in this and I’d like to think that when we do begin to feel some bounce-back that folks are going to want to travel and they may not be in a big hurry to go to major metropolitan places like New York or places where crowds gather like Disney World.
“And I think Savannah has a lot to offer in that regard so we’re thinking about that in preparing our marketing materials for when we see a glimmer of hope.”
Marinelli does say in terms of hotels and motels that there are long term financial impacts for local governments who rely on hotel and motel tax revenues (from occupied rooms) and that also rely on sales tax revenue generated by visitors.
Marinelli is confident tourists will return but says no one can predict when right now.
“We’re all in this together,” he said. “It sounds cliche but it’s never been more real,”