Savannah/Hilton Head airport expansion moves forward, tourism leaders hopeful

Local News

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – As the travel industry continues to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport is continuing expansion projects.

City Council approved nearly $7 million in contracts for improvement and expansion projects, including the rental car facility improvement project as well as paint and sign replacement. Two larger projects, the security checkpoint and terminal concourse expansions, are moving into final design stages.

Lori Lynah, a spokesperson for the airport, told WSAV News 3 those projects could take three to four years to complete once construction starts.

In 2019, 14.8 million people visited Savannah, according to the Chamber of Commerce. For Joe Marinelli, president of Visit Savannah, the airport experience is important – considering it’s the first thing visitors see.

“Visitors from around the country – and, really, around the globe now – are always complimenting us on our airport experience,” Marinelli said. “The rocking chairs, the interpretation of the squares, a little bit of Savannah, a little bit of Hilton Head. It really makes for a terrific experience when visitors come to town.”

Before the pandemic, the airport brought in three million passengers and more than $37 million dollars in revenue, according to the 2019 annual report.

To help bring more revenue to the city, Marinelli’s department is shifting to market more to fly-in visitors.

“Today we spend more money than ever before in places like New York, in Boston, in Chicago, in Dallas and so forth,” he said. “We really want to lift up that fly-in visitor and bring more people in. Those are the folks that have more money to spend when they travel.”

Marinelli estimates up to 50% of visitors travel through the airport. He hopes the airport’s expansion and improvement projects will continue to grow that number.

“It’s about runways and cargo and international, but they have never lost sight and never lost focus of making sure that the overall visitor experience is a positive one,” Marinelli said.

Earlier this month, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave more than $11 million to the airport for cargo operations. Lynn told News 3 that project is expected to be completed in 2023.

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