Episode 124

How Savannah Set The Tone For Handling Covid

Episode Description

In this episode of the Destination Marketing Podcast, Adam takes the show on the road to Savannah Georgia to learn more about their unique recovery campaign. Jeremy Harvey, Vice President of Communications & Marketing at Visit Savannah, joins us to talk about this campaign, as well as to provide valuable insights on the future of the tourism industry.

"You definitely have to be agile and creative when you can't follow the plan you've laid out. Circumstances will arise, and you have to be able to throw your plan out the window and really get to the heart of what your goal is as much as possible." -Jeremy Harvey

Meet our Host and Guest(s)

  • Name: Adam Stoker
  • Position: Co-founder and CEO of Relic
  • Favorite Destination: Fiji
  • Dream Destination: New Zealand
  • Name: Jeremy Harvey
  • Position: Vice President of Communications & Marketing at Visit Savannah
  • Favorite Destination: Ireland
  • Dream Destination: Amalfi Coast, Italy

“How Savannah Set The Tone For Handling Covid” – Show Notes and Highlights

Show Highlights:

  • Unique attributes of Savannah, Georgia: 
    1. A beautiful place with bucolic nature with the squares and the greenery that you can go every other block.
    2. The hospitality of the people.
    3. One of the most tourism-friendly cities. 
  • One of the best attributes of Savannah is it is so walkable.
  • Jeremy shares that you can engage with people when you’re on foot.
  • Savannah did a lot of Facebook live broadcasts during the pandemic.
  • Savannah rolls out campaigns to bring visitors back through organic channels, and promotes drive market and fly market campaigns.
  • Savannah works with data partners such as UberMedia, C Source, and Entrada to identify the people traveling during the pandemic. 
  • It is important to be agile, be creative, be open to new data tools and technologies and stay up on what your goal is as much as possible.
  • In Savannah, leisure continues to drive the visitation, especially on weekends.
  • Savannah’s major initiative in 2021 is doubling the size of their convention center.
  • Jeremy advises DMOs to keep learning, start with the goal and work back from there.


Resources Mentioned in the Podcast:

Episode Transcript

Jeremy Harvey: [0:00:00] You definitely have to be agile. And you definitely have to be creative when you can’t follow the plan you’ve laid out because circumstances will arise, but you have to be able to sort of throw your plan out the window and really get to the heart of what your goal is as much as possible. 


Adam Stoker: [00:00:21] Hello everyone. Welcome to another episode of the Destination Marketing podcast. It’s a little bit different show. If you remember late last year, we actually took the show on the road and did some in person recordings, and we decided to do it again. So, our first stop on that road trip is Savannah, Georgia. We have Jeremy Harvey. He is the vice president of communications and marketing at Visit Savannah. Jeremy, welcome to the show. 


Jeremy Harvey: [00:00:46] Good morning. Thanks for having me.


Adam Stoker: [00:00:48] Hey, thanks for letting us come do this on short notice. 


Jeremy Harvey: [00:00:51] Hey, we’re all about hospitality here in Savannah, so your ultimate red carpet.


Adam Stoker: [00:00:54] I like it. You know, this is one of my favorite destinations in the world. My wife and I in 2018, I believe it was, we came down here on a trip. Didn’t really know exactly what to expect, but we came, we’ll talk about different components of that experience throughout the show, but we had an incredible time. 


Jeremy Harvey: [00:01:16] Yeah. Ironically enough, my first trip to Savannah was a trip with my wife back in 2010, before a tourism conference that was here. And it was in August and I was blown away by the city and how great it was. And I thought, if I can enjoy in August in Savannah, it must be a special place because it’s really hot.


Adam Stoker: [00:01:3] This goes back to what Bill Gates always says where he says, “Usually the first stop in economic development is tourism.” And that sounds like for you it was come on a trip. And then it’s like I got to live here. 


Jeremy Harvey: For sure. Yeah. I think a visitor, whatever they’re going to do, that first experience really lays out how the trip is going to go.


Adam Stoker: [00:01:54] Yeah, sets the tone. 


Jeremy Harvey: [00:01:57] Yeah, for sure. 


Adam Stoker: [00:01:58] Well, Jeremy, we’ve got a couple of icebreaker questions we’d like to ask before we really get into the meat of the show. So, first of all, my question for you is what is your dream destination? If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be? 


Jeremy Harvey: [00:02:10] Gosh, there’s a list of about 25, but lately, we’ve been talking a lot, my wife and I, about going to Italy, to the Amalfi Coast. We spent a week in Italy back in, that was a long time ago, 2009, touring around Tuscany with some friends and before kids, of course, and had a wonderful time. Now that the kids are older, we thought, let’s maybe think about going back to Italy and exploring that region, because it just looks so amazing. 


Adam Stoker: [00:02:42] Yeah. So, you would like to go to the Amalfi Coast. I’ve had that comment a couple of times. What is it about that specific region that draws you in that makes you want to take the kids out there and the family?


Jeremy Harvey: [00:02:54] Well, it just looks amazing. I mean, being on the side of the sea and the structured levels of the towns there and stuff, and exploring from town to town, plus the food. I love Italian food. My family loves Italian food. And being able to experience that with them, I think, would really be a memorable trip. 


Adam Stoker: [00:03:16] Yeah, sounds incredible. I’ve never done Europe. It’s still on my list. So, I’ve got about 20 dream destinations over there that I’ve still got to get to. Yeah, exactly right. We’ve all got a pretty long bucket list, especially if you’ve been in this industry for a while, you meet people from different places.


Jeremy Harvey: [00:03:34] For sure. 


Adam Stoker: [00:03:35] And you really get that list to extend. 


Jeremy Harvey: [00:03:37] Yeah. That’s the great thing about being in tourism. You get to see a lot of places, but it almost makes you want to go more places. 


Adam Stoker: [00:03:44] Yeah, it’s expensive to work in the tourism industry.


Jeremy Harvey: [00:03:47] It can be but we prioritize travel with our expenses for sure. 


Adam Stoker: [00:03:51] Absolutely. Well, speaking of that then, let’s talk about your favorite trip you’ve ever been on, or at least one of the big highlights that you’ve had. 


Jeremy Harvey: [00:04:00] Well Italy, the first time we were there was amazing. But I would say, one of the best trips I’ve had was my wife and I went to Ireland back in 2005. And her family, her grandmother’s from Donegal. So, we went over to sort of see where her grandmother grew up. We literally visited the house she was born in.


Adam Stoker: [00:04:22] No way.


Jeremy Harvey: [00:04:23] Her great uncles were there so, we got to meet them and just spend the day just exploring the area that she always heard from her grandmother when she was little, where she grew up. Ireland is just an amazing place in itself, and people are super friendly, just that experience. We got to go back a couple years ago with our kids and do the same trip. So, I would say Ireland as a place is a very special one for us. 


Adam Stoker: [00:04:51] Ireland sounds incredible. I feel like there’s a trend that’s starting to happen more and more. And that’s kind of these genealogical trips where you go back and see where the families from, see the roots of your genealogy. It sounds like that’s what you guys did with your wife’s family. 


Jeremy Harvey: [00:05:07] Yeah, for sure. It was like what can we get more out of this trip than just seeing the sights? And it’s like learning what our history is and where her family grew up, and just the life that they experienced there. It was amazing. Yeah. 


Adam Stoker: [00:05:24] So seeing her, you said there was a couple of great uncles there, right?


Jeremy Harvey: [00:05:29] Yeah. 


Adam Stoker: [00:05:30] Did she learn things that she didn’t know about her family on that trip? Were there any revelations that you weren’t ready for? Something like that?


Jeremy Harvey: [00:05:37] Well, nothing like that. But the one thing that she thought was amazing was she always heard from her grandmother that she used to walk two miles to school and it was snowy. And the place that her school was in was just like this little building. They used to clear it out the store nearby to have dances and stuff like that. It was always portrayed as being in the middle of nowhere rugged. We actually went from her house to the school. We found the school and the building, the store where they used to have dances in. It was almost exactly two miles and in a rugged area of Donegal. 


Donegal is way up in the northern part of Ireland. It’s actually farther north in some parts of Northern Ireland. It’s way up there. It’s not very visited as a tourism destination, which was actually nice because you got to feel like you’re all alone up there. Immersed. Yeah. 


Adam Stoker: [00:06:30] Okay. So, we found out that this may be the one grandmother that was telling the truth. She said she had to go uphill, both ways.


Jeremy Harvey: [00:06:39] Yeah, and the snow. I mean, it was on this little stone gravel road you had to walk and it must have been pretty arduous to go back and forth school over there. 


Adam Stoker: [00:06:49] Wow. What unique perspective for you guys to get as you went on that trip. That sounds like a lot of fun. Well, let’s talk a little bit about your background, Jeremy, and how you ended up in tourism, and then we’ll get to how you got to where you are today.


Jeremy Harvey: [00:07:07] Sure. Yeah, I started in tourism. I almost hate to give the date, but back in 1996. I was working in Washington, D.C. I’m originally from Pennsylvania. I moved down there after college to D.C. and just happened to start working at a company, and my supervisor with somebody who I worked very well with. She became my mentor. She left after some time to go and take over the marketing role at what was called then the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association. I was really bummed when she left because we had this great working relationship. 


But after a few months, she called and said, hey, we need more help over here. Would you want to come work here? I was like, “I don’t even know where you went. What is this organization?” She’s like, “Well, come over on Monday and we’ll talk about it.” So, I went over. The city had privatized the organization, so they were building from scratch. There was only her and the president, the executive director. So, we talked, and I said, “I don’t even know what this organization does,” so they spent the first half just talking about what a tourism organization did. I had no idea there were offices that did this. That was a great experience. 


I took the job and found out pretty much right away that this was an industry I’m going to love. I mean, I was a history major in college. I was getting a masters in history. I thought I might teach college, but when I started working there, I thought, okay, I think this is going to be it. So, I’ve worked for three DMOs now. This is my third. I worked for Alexandria for eight years and left as the director of marketing, and then went out to Visit Loudon, Northwest DC area. Dallas Airport is there. But it’s really a beautiful place with wineries and horse farms. I really loved living and working and promoting Loudon County. I was there almost nine years, and then this job opened up and I thought I should apply for that. 


Adam Stoker: [00:09:12] Had you taken your trip down here yet by that time?


Jeremy Harvey: [00:09:14] Yes. I had taken it about three years before. So, I was familiar with the city, and I thought, wow. My first thought was that’s going to be a really competitive job. I probably wouldn’t have a shot at getting that. But I talked to my wife and I said, “I just feel like I should put in for it because my predecessor was in this role for, I think, 13 years.” And I said, “If I don’t take that job and the next 13 years, I will never get the opportunity to do it.” So, I’ll put it in for it. Lo and behold, I got an interview. They flew me down. At that point, I was thinking, well, I get a free trip to Savannah. No expectations. Luckily enough, I got the role, got the job and been here. Gosh, that’s going to be eight years in July. 


Adam Stoker: [00:10:00] Awesome. Okay. More than halfway to your predecessor’s time there. 


Jeremy Harvey: [00:10{03] Yeah. And I was right. The next person could be in this role for several years.


Adam Stoker: [00:10:07] Maybe more.


Jeremy Harvey: [00:10:08] Yeah. Fortunately, it was me. But I’m excited to be here. It’s a great destination. 


Adam Stoker: [00:10:14] Yeah. Let’s talk about Savannah as a destination. I appreciate you giving us your background there. It seems like most people have a similar experience of when they get into tourism, they are like, “Holy cow. First, I didn’t know you could get paid to do this”, right? And then it’s like, “This is where I want to spend my career, in the industry.” So, you came to Savannah and you started learning, obviously, you had experienced it as a visitor, which gave you a unique perspective. But what is it that makes Savannah such a unique destination? 


Jeremy Harvey: [00:10:49] Well, I think a number of things, but I think the two most important aspects of it is it’s just a beautiful place. And that is, I think, built upon the original street plan that James Oglethorpe, the founder, laid out. He laid out the squares, the six original squares of the city. They’ve replicated it as the city has grown. Now we have 21 throughout the city. I think that has allowed itself to grow in a way that is just unique in the United States. So, it reinforces the bucolic nature with the squares and the greenery that you can go every other block and have this wonderful experience you see in some of the photos we have in here. Your listeners can’t see it. But the photos of Savannah, you really do experience that every other block in Savannah. So, I think that’s one thing. 


The other thing is just the hospitality of the people here. I think sometimes that can be almost stereotypical, like the South is very hospitable. My wife and I, when we came down to look for a house before I actually started at the job, we were looking for a place to rent to move here. We were out during the day, and when we got back, I think we looked each other and said, I feel like we’re being set up because everybody is too friendly. I mean, they go out of the way to say hello and to be nice and to be helpful. And I learned pretty quick that this is just the way people are here. I think that it’s just ingrained in the city. It’s always been a hospitable place. We have the Port of Savannah, so it’s always been welcoming people from all over the world. I think it’s just part of the DNA of Savannah. So, I love that about it. 


Adam Stoker: 00:12:40] Yeah, I think both of those are really unique things that I experienced here as well. I’m going to add one more, if that’s okay.


Jeremy Harvey: [00:12:47] Please. 


Adam Stoker: [00:12:48] As far as my experience, when I came with my wife, I feel like this is one of the most tourist-friendly cities I’ve ever been to. What I mean by that is for one, you’ve got all the great dining that’s right downtown that you can access very easily. You’ve got the trolley tour, the hop-on, hop-off tour, which for us, we went on the first day we did that tour and used it to decide where we were going to spend the next three days when we were in town, right? So, the hop-on, hop-off tour is really unique. But then I just feel like the city is almost built for tourism because there’s so much that you can access in such a close area. And anywhere that’s not close, you can get to so easily through some of the different transportation type tours that are available. Does that make sense?


Jeremy Harvey: It does. I think, one of the best attributes of the city is it is so walkable. You can come and park your car and just go out on foot. I think that in my experience, the best experiences I’ve had in travel have been when I’ve been out exploring on foot. It brings the city to a more human level. It allows you to engage with people. You can’t really engage with people in your car. 


Adam Stoker: [00:14:04] Well, you can, but it’s usually not a good experience, right? 


Jeremy Harvey: [00:14:09] I mean, the way you can engage with people when you’re on foot is, we have walking tours. A lot of the experience you can have is done when you’re face to face with people walking around.


Adam Stoker: [00:14:21] Yeah, absolutely. And the dining here is just unreal. My business partner, Colby and I, went to the grove last night, which was a redo for us of where my wife and I had gone when we were here. Mrs. Wilkes may be the best meal I’ve ever had in my life. So, you always feel satisfied when you’re here as well if you’re eating. 


Jeremy Harvey: [00:14:45] Yeah. I mean, the great thing about the food scene here, we like to say we specialize in something called Coastal cuisine, which is like seafood, Coastal US, Southern US food, for sure. But we have these iconic places just like Mrs. Wilkes, like you mentioned, like The Olde Pink House, which is right here on Reynolds Square, 18th Century home. But then you have new places like, The Grey Restaurant, which is an amazing restaurant over on MLK Boulevard here.


Adam Stoker: [00:15:14] Okay. I’ll have to add that to the list. 


Jeremy Harvey: [00:15:15] Yeah. It was named one of the best restaurants in America. And the chef there, Mashama Bailey grew up here, but moved to New York, became a chef up there and came back, did a partnership with the owner, John Morisano, and just built this really special place. It’s in a restored Greyhound bus terminal. They just amazingly restored the structure, I would say, to its former glory. But I think it’s even better than it was when it was built. And they just do a special thing there. That partnership has really thrived and really put us on the map, I think, officially. 


Adam Stoker: [00:15:52] And I think that illustrates the point. There are so many great places here, once again, very tourism-friendly. Let’s talk a little bit about some of the things that you guys have done that’s unique from a marketing perspective. The thing that made me want to, other than the fact that I love this destination, that made me want to chat with you, is your COVID campaign had a really unique strategy to it that I felt like was really impactful. So, we’re going to take a quick break. When we come back, we’ll talk about that strategy that you had in just a moment. 


I’ve been getting a lot of questions recently from destinations around the world. Adam, why does my destination need a podcast? You talk about it on your show, but why? Stakeholder engagement is so underutilized in destination marketing. And a podcast does a great job of engaging those stakeholders. And now you have the ability to show all of the things that you’re doing on your podcast and engage those stakeholders. So, if any of you have considered doing a podcast, I would really look into it. It’s a long game. I would look at what it takes to start one. We obviously have a product at Relic. Every destination needs to start today and do a podcast. You will reap the benefits over the next several years and years and years. 


[0:17:22] So, Jeremy, one of the things, like we mentioned before the break, that really made me want to reach out to you is when COVID hit, you guys were so proactive and quick on developing your recovery campaign that you announced your recovery campaign before you launched your recovery campaign. And what it did was allow you to get a ton of press coverage and PR value from your recovery campaign. Tell me a little bit about how that came about, and some of the coverage that you saw as a result. 


Jeremy Harvey: [00:17:57] Sure. Yeah. And I will say, we didn’t have the pandemic recovery guide sitting at our desk. This was something that we all had to learn as we went through it, like, how do you deal with this? Especially in a destination like Savannah that is so dependent on tourism, how do we overcome that? And I will give props to my president, Joe Marinelli. He’s been a really big advocate of being aggressive and really setting the course for the organization. He said early on, we need to develop a multi-tiered campaign to really bring us out of this. 


Georgia and Florida were some of the earliest states to open back up. So, we knew that we had the ability to bring people here that they were going to be welcomed. So, that was the impetus. But we kept marketing through the early stages, March and April, with our social media for generating that organic content. We did a lot of Facebook lives because we figured it really killed us last spring because, as you can see in some of the photos, the springtime in Savannah is the most amazing time. 


So, to have the pandemic hit in mid-March, which is like when the peak of the Azaleas are out, really, it was like we felt visitors are really missing that this year. So, we did a lot of Facebook live broadcasts to show people Savannah. So, it gave them a little taste, gave them a little bit of an escape. But we knew that period wasn’t going to last forever. 


We need to start being aggressive. So, we developed a campaign called Rediscover Our City that we developed creative. And it was almost like many itinerary-based advertising videos, social media posts, et cetera. And then we got all the local media representatives, TV, radio, print, altogether. And my boss said we’re gifting this to you. This is our campaign. We’re going to give you the assets if you want to change them, if you want to modify them, if you want to run them as is, we will help you do that. 


And it really helped emerged from a local standpoint first. And I thought if we’re going to be able to bring visitors back, go by car or by plane, the restaurants, and attractions, and museums, stuff needs to be open. So, they won’t be able to be open first unless we get those locals up to fill out those sites and fill up those attractions and really visit those. So, that was the impetus for it. We knew that the local campaign was going to be first. We had great participation, wonderful media partners. The campaign was well received. We saw it on billboards. We saw it all over the place that people really embrace that Rediscover Our City campaign because people wanted to get out. They wanted to travel. And the weather was amazing here last spring. So, it really gave people the permission sort of yes, you can go out. Do it safely. We developed the Savannah Safe Pledge –


Adam Stoker: [00:21:01] Yeah.


Jeremy Harvey: [00:21:02] — which sort of mimicked what the State Health Department was saying and what the CDC was saying. Wear a mask, wash your hands, and social distance as much as possible. You can do that and still be safe and still experience our wonderful city that was sort of the second phase. The first phase was just keeping in touch showing Savannah through our organic channels. The “Rediscover Our City” campaign was the second phase and then the third and fourth was our drive market and fly market campaign really to get people back.


Adam Stoker: [00:21:36] Yeah. Let’s back up a little bit there.


Jeremy Harvey: [00:21:37] Sure.


Adam Stoker: [00:21:38] — and talk about that because pandemic hits. I think all of us went from this virus might be something interesting to oh crap, this is going to be a huge impact on the industry very quickly. Right?


Jeremy Harvey: [00:21:51] Yeah.


Adam Stoker: [00: 21:52] What were the steps from when the pandemic hit to your now having a quasi press conference with your local media announcing your campaign? What were the steps in between that led you there to be able to have that as part of your plan? 


Jeremy Harvey: [00:22:09] Well, I think the most important step was knowing that we had an industry that was really dependent on tourism and they needed to get back. A lot of our friends and neighbors all work in tourism. We needed to be able to keep them afloat. We knew the right thing to do was to promote the places you can go visit, etcetera. A lot of restaurants were doing take-out only, but do your part, help your own community and become a visitors, that’s why we developed that campaign. Like I said, it’s a lot of suggestions for getting out and about around Savannah. 


The big thing for the other campaign to target visitors was we knew there were people still traveling. Even through the pandemic a lot of people are on lockdown, but we saw, yeah, there are people driving up and down I-95. There are people that want to get out and about. There are people trying to do it safely. We are like, how can we attract the people who are willing to travel? That’s not everybody and it was a small segment initially. We work with some of our data partners to identify who are the people traveling during March, April and May. We want to hit those and then we do look alike targeting the people who look like those people. That really sort of allowed us to really go after the right people.


Adam Stoker: [00:23:29] Would you mind mentioning what technology you’re using there just so that —


Jeremy Harvey: [00:23:32] Sure.


Adam Stoker: [00:23:33] — people that are listening might be able to check those out?


Jeremy Harvey: [00:23:35] Yeah. Back in the early stages, we used a company called UberMedia. 


Adam Stoker: [00:23:38] Okay.


Jeremy Harvey: [00:23:39] — which allows us to target device IDs and then we could track if they came to Savannah. We knew from the research and the data that we got from UberMedia that these segments of people were traveling. They were traveling to Savannah but also going to some of our competitors and we look to see, okay, where are people going and are they traveling? Once we identified that there were and there were people we targeted them, but the data that allowed us to target them and the people that look like them to run our campaigns. Like I said, to do a mass-market campaign was going to be a waste of money.


Adam Stoker: [00:24:15] Yeah.


Jeremy Harvey: [00:24:16] How can we use it? We were also struggling with the budget and having some major cuts. We didn’t know how long this was going to last. Luckily, our organization had reserve funds that we could tap into.


Adam Stoker: [00:24:29] In the bank vault that you have here?


Jeremy Harvey: [00:24:30] Yes, that’s right. Just walk down to the —


Adam Stoker: [00:24:33] For those listening, The Convention and Visitors Bureau here is in an old bank with a giant vault that you see right when you walk in so that’s what I’m referring to.


Jeremy Harvey: [00:24:44] Yeah, we luckily store our money right there. But we were struggling, and luckily we did not have to cut any marketing spend from what we had originally laid out. Now we didn’t know if we were going to have that at the end of the year but for what we had scheduled to spend through the spring and summer, we kept that, we protected that as much as possible because we knew we needed to be aggressive to keep people coming. I think that’s sort of what we focused on for sure.


Adam Stoker: [00:25:11] Jeremy, one thing that you mentioned was that you gave your partners a lot of flexibility and didn’t say, “Hey, we are launching the campaign on this specific date.” How did you guys decide how to do that? How did it work?


Jeremy Harvey: [00:25:25] We had a lot of internal discussions about when is the right time to launch a local focus campaign. We admitted from the get-go, we don’t know. We will know in hindsight what was the right time, but we didn’t say, it’s around, I think May 1st that we were targeting in our minds, that’s when we think ads can start running but we left it to the media partners. When we gave him the assets, we said, “We can’t tell you.” They asked us, “When do you want to start this? “I don’t know.” You’re going to have to be happy with that answer if I don’t know but when you’re ready when your readers or your watchers and your viewers are ready, then you can start running them. Like I said, we gave them complete autonomy for how to modify the ads. What works? What works best for them but the timing was another factor in that as well.


Adam Stoker: [00:26:22] Well you even pulled the word visit off of your logo and it was just a Savannah campaign.


Jeremy Harvey: [00:26:29] Yeah, this is about our community. Obviously, if you’re living here, you probably aren’t visiting but you can certainly do all the things that visitors love to do when they come here. We see a lot of locals doing things that visitors like to do and going places and that’s one of the things I love about Savannah. If you go to like The Olde Pink House, for example, you’ll see as many locals there as you will visitors and I love that. There’s a lot of destinations where you have places those only visitors go and you don’t see locals there, and you won’t find that in Savannah. That’s what I think gives you that local flavor that hospitality comes through.


Adam Stoker: [00:27:05] Makes sense. When you guys, I mean, was part of the hope when you called the local media together that the organic spread would go far beyond your local media? Or did that kind of happen unexpectedly? Tell me a little bit about that part.


Jeremy Harvey: [00:27:21] Well we focused mostly on the Savannah area. Now, we had a great partner. There was an ESPN station that is down on the Georgia-Florida border that got wind of it. They said we’d love to promote it too. We get day-trippers even up from Jacksonville, Florida that come up. If we can broadcast this further, we will be glad to do it. Like I said, we shared that campaign with as many partners as we wanted to. But also we knew that when people would go out and experience those places that we were promoting, they would post on social media. It goes off from there with all the connections that people have through those channels.


Adam Stoker: [00:28:00] Right.


Jeremy Harvey: [00:38:01] That’s actually better for us because they’re more likely to believe their friend or family member when they post, “We had a great time at this museum that’s opened in Savannah,” than if I said, “Go to this museum because it’s great.”


Adam Stoker: [00:28:13] Yeah.


Jeremy Harvey: [00:28:14] It’s just the credibility is much higher from that.


Adam Stoker: [00:28:16] Absolutely. Well, let’s talk about, we’ve now been in the pandemic, believe it or not for a year. What do you feel like you learned over the course of the last 12 months that you’re going to use as you continue to build in 2020? Excuse me, 2021.


Jeremy Harvey: [00:28:35] 2021. Yeah. You definitely have to be agile. You definitely have to be creative, when you can’t follow the plan you’ve laid out because circumstances will rise and this is just what happened this year or this past year with the pandemic when it broke out. You have to be able to sort of throw your plan out the window and really get to the heart of what your goal is as much as possible. As stakeholders, we knew we needed to keep a lot of these places open and afloat so that became kind of like our driving force initially. We also knew that we could use some of the newer tools, the data tools we’re using to really go after the people who were gettable frankly.


Adam Stoker: [00:29:20] Yeah.


Jeremy Harvey: [00:29:21] Because we knew that and still today there’s still a big segment of people who just won’t travel until it’s either the vaccines are widely available or the pandemic is over. We are willing to sort of welcome them back when they come back, certainly but we also need to keep the doors open. Let’s go after the people who are traveling. Always being open to new tools and new technologies has allowed us to sort of stay up as much as possible with what our goals are.


Adam Stoker: [00:29:49] Okay. You gave two really good pieces of advice there. In a recap for those who are listening, the first one is the willingness to be agile, right?


Jeremy Harvey: [00:29:57] Yes.


Adam Stoker: [00:29:58] Like I think so many of us, especially in destination marketing, had got kind of “Okay, this is our annual campaign and were going to run that for 2019 and let it go throughout the year and then in September we will start planning for the following year. Now it’s like, “Hey, it’s been two weeks. Is this campaign working? How are we going to pivot? What do we need to change?”


Jeremy Harvey: [00:30:15] Yeah.


Adam Stoker: [00:30:16] I think that’s actually, a pandemic is never a good thing. Crisis is never a good thing but there are good things that can come out of a crisis like that. I think the willingness in the industry, the paradigm shift in the industry to be agile and not just create an annual campaign and let it ride. I think that’s a pretty important learning experience for everybody in the industry.


Jeremy Harvey: [00:30:40] For sure. I will say it is scary. It is scary to throw your well-developed plans out the window and started fresh. For example, this year and even in 2021, we developed every year an annual business plan around 12 months from January to December. It follows our budget. This year, we said we are only going to do a six-month plan because we don’t know what’s going to happen in the second half of the year. Why develop all these plans that are just going to be up for change anyway?


Adam Stoker: [00:31:11] Yeah.


Jeremy Harvey: [00:31:12] We are very supported by the board in that decision we developed our plan. Now we know what we’d like to do the second half of the year but meetings and conventions aren’t back yet in Savannah. Leisure continues to drive the visitation here, especially on weekends. I mean, luckily, we had Valentine’s Day and a three-day weekend. With President’s Day, we saw 80% to 90% occupancy —


Adam Stoker: [00:31:16] Wow.


Jeremy Harvey: [00:31:38] — back again here in Savannah, which is unheard of. Certainly, we don’t get those every day, but we thought, Okay, there is a glimmer of hope here that we can bring visitors back in a safe way and so build on that for the future. Going into the spring we’re looking at, can we bring leisure travelers in midweek? Again, we’re using data partners to sort of try that we’re getting ready to launch that next week to see if we can bring those people in not just on Friday or Saturday nights but Tuesday and Wednesday nights. 


We have got great deals from our partners, sort of push that along. That’s something we’re trying to do, typically our midweek is carried by meetings and conventions at the Convention Center here in Savannah and without that base of business, we got to again try something new.


Adam Stoker: [00:32:26] Yes. Well, the two major learning that you had kind of going hand in hand, right? The first one was agility. The second one was being willing to use new data tools and really once I have that data, I could be more agile because I’m learning from the data that I’m seeing. Right?


Jeremy Harvey: [00:32:42] Yes.


Adam Stoker: [00:32:44] What are some of the new data tools that you’re using that you found a way to help you pivot quicker or be more agile?


Jeremy Harvey: [00:32:50] Sure. Some of these we’ve just started working with so we’re anxious to see but one of them is a company called C Source, which is very similar to UberMedia data, but also allows us to visualize where people are coming when they do come to Savannah. And that’s a tool that we’re using for this midweek campaign that we’re calling “Into the Spring.” There was also a recent Entrada client. We’re onboarding right now with them.


Adam Stoker: [00:33:20] We’re big fans of Entrada.


Jeremy Harvey: [00:33:25] Yeah. One of my staff members, Zeek Coleman, who’s kind of like our Director of Data Intelligence. He is our Director of Data Intelligence. He has been working with them for a long time to develop their product and really to see how we can best utilize them for what’s going to work for what we needed to do. We are excited about both of those products. We are continuing to use UberMedia, but we’re also open to other channels. I mean, even our billboard strategy, which we still use out of home as part of what we do. We are finding new partners that will allow us to be more strategic with the spin that we do there. Typically, we would have just static billboards on I-95 as people travel south to come to Savannah but now I think we’re being able to much more accurately go after the people and then track how those billboards and how those out of home advertisements are doing.


Adam Stoker: [00:34:16] Great. Okay, so using some new data to be agile —


Jeremy Harvey: [00:34:20] Yeah.


Adam Stoker: [00:34:21] — and to make adjustments. What do you feel like is your major initiative if you were to boil it down into one for 2021. What kind of the theme as far as how you guys are running your organization?


Jeremy Harvey: [00:34:33] Oh gosh, that’s a good question. We have so many different things that we’re focused on. I mean the convention center here in Savannah is in the process of getting ready to do a groundbreaking. They’re going to expand. They are going to double the size of the convention center and-


Adam Stoker: [00:34:47] Let me actually stop you real quick because that’s really interesting to me in a time that conventions have been really difficult to get and the meetings haven’t come back, you guys are expanding your convention center. I’d say that’s a good sign for what the future of meetings and conventions looks like here in Savannah.


Jeremy Harvey: [00:35:04] Yeah.


Adam Stoker: [00:35:05] What gave you guys the confidence to do something like that? 


Jeremy Harvey: [00:35:07] Well, of course, that was in the works before the pandemic. 


Adam Stoker: [00:35:10] Okay.


Jeremy Harvey: [00:35:11] Struck. But the fact that it’s still on the to-do list and we’re doing it, I think speaks to your point. We’ve had tremendous support locally, tremendous support from the governor’s office and the state legislator to really get that building expanded. We lose a lot of business, of people, and of organizations that want to come to Savannah but our convention center wasn’t big enough. Those what we call city-wide conventions that really take up the whole city and we’ll be able to fit in a convention center that size. it takes three, four or five years out to book those. We are working now to book 23, 24, and 25 and that’s really a big focus. We don’t think by doing the work today in June, we’re going to have a big convention here in Savannah. You really have to start to build those relationships and sort of start those in the pipeline.


Adam Stoker: [00:36:04] Great. Okay. For this year, that’s a major initiative given that —


Jeremy Harvey: [00:36:08] — especially meetings and conventions. Yeah.


Adam Stoker: [00:36:10] Getting meeting conventions going. What do you feel like if you could give destinations that are listening kind of your most important piece of advice right now, what would you say?


Jeremy Harvey: [00:36:21] I would say keep learning. One of the things that Zeek Coleman, my Director of Data Intelligence said early on when he started in this role, which he predated me, I think he’s been with us 10 years. He’s an amazing guy. He said early on, I didn’t refuse any salesperson that called. I sat through their pitch and he learned not only what the product was but also what questions you need to ask. What kind of things he should be focused on? What’s the potential for what we do? Another thing he does is he always starts with the goal like, “What’s your goal work back from there?” Because if you don’t know what goal you’re working toward, you’re less likely to end up where you want to be. We’ve kind of ingrained those sentiments into our strategy sessions for the marketing and communications team and that has been I think the best thing to keep us on target, even through trying times like this.


Adam Stoker: [00:37:16] Yeah, that’s unique to say, “Hey, if a salesman calls, I’m going to listen,” because there’s a lot of salesmen out there, right? It probably took a lot of his time.


Jeremy Harvey: [00:37:25] It’s harder now than it was before but a lot of members of the team, you know, Lauren Cleveland, our Director of Digital Marketing. She and Zeke and I will get together in a room and we’ll talk about what tools we’ve heard of and we will share leads and things like that. We only have a limited budget so we have to be pretty choosy with what we do. But we are one of those organizations I think that a lot of vendors like to work with because we like to be guinea pigs, like try us if you want to try something, we’re willing to do anything. If you want to try to use your tool in a different way, call us and we will work with it. They love that because they always want real-world examples to prove to their other potential clients that things work. We get the benefit of being early adopters and really trying things out. So I think that helps us as well.


Adam Stoker: [00:38:16] Yeah, I like that. I also think it’s important to note you guys are willing to or were willing to hear any salesman. That doesn’t mean you are willing to buy every product that got pitched. You’re still very judicious about how you spend your money but I think it’s a unique strategy to say, “Hey, the way we’re going to learn about what’s out there is we’re going to listen to the next however many phone calls that come in and see what we haven’t been aware of yet.”


Jeremy Harvey: [00:38:42] Yeah, I mean like I said, it’s something you can never stop doing. Marketing technology is always changing. You really have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I guess with learning these things because —


Adam Stoker: [00:38:57] I like that.


Jeremy Harvey: [00:38:58] You never know —


Adam Stoker: [00:38:59] Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Yeah, that’s really good. Jeremy, Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you feel would benefit our audience or destinations that are listening?


Jeremy Harvey: [00:39:08] The only thing I would say is it’s February 23rd, right? Today?


Adam Stoker: [00:39:15] It’s around there.


Jeremy Harvey: [00:39:17] February 23rd, as far as the pandemic goes, we watch every week the research that Longwood’s comes out with Destination Analyst. I think we’re in a position now where we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I want to give as much hope as I can to destination markers all over the country that we’re going to go back to normal before we know it and just keep doing what you’re doing. We will all be on the other side of this before we know it.


Adam Stoker: [00:39:46] Hang in there, right? That’s the message.


Jeremy Harvey: [00:39:48] Don’t give up.


Adam Stoker: [00:39:50] I like it. Well, Jeremy how can people get a hold of you or find you if they have questions?


Jeremy Harvey: [00:39:56] You can certainly email me, it’s on the website jharvey@visitsavannah.com, and LinkedIn. I try and check that periodically but I think just emails are probably the best way.


Adam Stoker: [00:40:09] Okay. Well Jeremy, thanks for coming on sharing your time and experience and knowledge with us. It’s been really valuable and insightful. We appreciate it.


Jeremy Harvey: [00:40:16] Thanks for having me.


Adam Stoker: [00:40:17] Absolutely. Well, thanks everybody for listening. If you enjoyed today’s content, don’t forget to leave us a rating or a review. Otherwise, we’ll see you next week.