Meetings in Savannah offer Memorable Experiences

Updated: Jun 20

By Brandi Chambless


In this gem of a city, it would be next to impossible to seal the bottomless concoction of tales about the effervescently modern, yet historic, American city of Savannah. Simply stated, she exemplifies the bedrock of Americana, both past and present. If America as a whole represents the enduring beauty of a lady called Liberty, then Savannah would certainly be her sultry smile. Add to it the growing exposure as a preferred travel destination, and it is a great choice for corporate events, meetings and incentives.


Recently having been named by Travel + Leisure magazine as their No. 3 destination in the U.S. to visit, the designation makes it more than a convenient place to entertain and explore new relationships and ideas. According to VisitSavannah.com, at least 11 airlines connect direct non-stop flights to and from Savannah daily, making it easily accessible. Cities such as Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Dallas, Houston and Miami are just some that readily funnel travelers into Savannah.


The infrastructure of the city’s tourism industry ensures that meeting attendees have an experience like no other. This type of planning is nothing new to the Savannah mindset. Taking a look back in time, Savannah was the first American city known for initiating and executing a master-planned layout. It represents an era of historical truth, yet today is commingled with folklore that may be lightly enhanced at will by a customary afternoon cocktail spritzer. This is to be expected, as the stories and places of Savannah draw upon the intrigues of those who walk the cobblestone streets, still situated perfectly along today’s modern sidewalks.


Meeting attendees venturing off-site will not only see The Savannah College of Art and Design’s (SCAD) four decades of beauty, art and invention, but they will feel the vibe of dreamers connecting dreams to vision. SCAD influences the overall setting of Savannah, which is highly desirable for what could be an unforgettable business-building incentive package designed specifically for corporate executives who wish to make their event impact deeply personal. The environment for networking in planning meetings and incentives fosters potential for a world class team-building experience.

Savannah is also poised to host events from those sized on a large international scale, to a more custom-designed intimate mix. Espoused by a boutique manifesto pouring forth from an American city that more than once was burned and besieged, Savannah has verifiably asserted herself as one of the most adaptable getaways for intentional experiential bonding.


A Company’s Vision

Savannah’s appeal is what attracted ETHOS Event Collective to the city in hopes of becoming an integral part of bridging the gap between meeting and incentive planners and Savannah’s offerings. The ETHOS vision produces a behind-the-scenes team acting as a collective liaison, taking care to every personal luxury of event attendees without sacrificing Savannah’s meaningful past. This is all the more reason why attendees can relax in a place that allows them to maximize their time away. Just as Savannah has been the stalwart of American tradition, ETHOS has established itself as a mainstay of experiential adventure.


This is nothing new to the ETHOS team. After already making an impact in other cities located primarily in the West, Midwest and Southeast U.S. regions, the newly opened Savannah office is full-steam ahead. Maura O’Donnell, ETHOS business development expert, says of the Savannah location that it will continue to serve the company mission of purposeful planning with meaningful results. O’Donnell points out that everyone in the company chooses what they so desire to identify as their choice of a passion project.

“We try to weave these passion projects into any event we possibly can,” she says. “Throughout the year, each one of our team members will be involved with that particular project in some capacity. The company will also match outside contributions to the respective passion project or another organization.”


This connection from the heart of the ETHOS drawing board to the local community is only the genesis of the local partnerships. Local vendors such as Alchinme Candle Co., Savannah on Wheels, Pelindaba Lavender Savannah, and Savannah Bee Company are just some of those who are already being utilized by ETHOS, while also preparing for event attendees upon arrival. Expecting the unexpected is how the ETHOS creative team reaches the desired outcome in how events are perceived. For instance, participants might be out on a walking tour listening to Savannah Dan when the Leopold’s Ice Cream cart might appear with their award-winning, super-premium ice cream.


Savannah’s unique gifts are crowd-pleasing favorites. If family members are seeking shopping and adventure to fill the day while an event is being held, speciality gift shops are plentiful and accessible. Other options for luxury gift items include ETHOS’ creative team selecting indigenous honey, herbed lotions, handmade soaps or funky plants in retro containers that can be intentionally placed in a guest room.


With 14,000 hotel rooms available in Savannah, ETHOS has flexibility in working with planners based upon the number of participants. By identifying the goal of an event along with the shared connections of both attendees and an organization, ETHOS crafts moments of rousing impressions for a diverse audience. Premier venues such as The Alida; the JW Marriott Savannah Plant Riverside District; and Perry Lane Hotel, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Savannah are ideal for accommodating 75 to 80 participants in a brilliantly executed individualized luxury experience made possible by both the ETHOS team and hotel staff as they work in tandem.


“Working with a venue that places value on guest experience for groups in the 80 to 100 count is what we call the sweet spot,” says Joe Fijol, DMCP, principal, ETHOS Event Collective, who points out the importance of attention to every event detail by his creative team to event partners. “This is how we create environments that deepen relationships, inspire greatness and generate revenue for a city.”


ETHOS approaches every client’s event with the intention of positively influencing the aftereffect, starting with the big picture, then working through each multifaceted element. They are in pursuit of creative ideas that become grounded in a company’s strategy, driving results long after an event has ended. A healthy, working environment coupled with a strategic boots-on-the-ground ally is the reason why ETHOS has seen success in other cities. Now, they are using the same model in Savannah, and are already experiencing a great response from local tourism experts.


A City’s Evolution

Ryan Thompson, director of sales & marketing for The Alida, points out the evolution of tourism in Savannah over the last 20 years. “Having worked in the hospitality industry for 20 years, most of which have been in Savannah and the Low Country, I have seen the city’s transformation. From the addition of several luxury properties to the emerging culinary scene, the overall offerings, and quality of those offerings, have increased tremendously.”

Thompson says he has seen a shift in both the landscape and the clientele interested in Savannah. “We are seeing an increased demand from finance and insurance groups, and incentive programs who carefully select the destinations they visit. Meeting planners for these companies are tasked with delivering to their attendees a truly memorable, authentic and flawless experience. With those high expectations, the demand for a partner like ETHOS exists, because they truly understand the needs of these clients.”

Thompson’s experience with ETHOS is that they completely immerse themselves to develop relationships with local businesses to generate unforgettable experiences for visitors so they fall in love with Savannah and return for another taste in the future. He points out that ETHOS brings the experience, talent, creativity, knowledge and attention to detail to ensure that these visitors receive an authentic, world-class experience through every aspect of their time.


Tressa Wright, Perry Lane Hotel director of sales & marketing, says ETHOS brings a much-needed level of expertise to Savannah. “It’s important to have a company experiential coordinator assigned to meeting and incentive groups, because they help align all of the various aspects to an event to ensure the décor, food, drinks and staff support the vision, story and brand.”


ETHOS’ Savannah office, like other new office start ups during COVID-19, decided it would be best to ride out the storm during the pandemic before holding a grand opening. Having hoped to open in 2020, the launch at the JW Marriott demonstrated a further need of the VIP services of ETHOS. Fijol knew that he would want to be a part of the downtown community by virtue of a downtown office location. This is the heart of the walking city, where tourism registers its highest foot traffic.


One of the details ETHOS considers when designing event incentive packages for corporations is whether or not participants will have a car or be shuttled to and from the airport. Ride-sharing services are accustomed to transporting event attendees and locals who choose not to walk, although this compact city is eminently walkable, which makes for a unique offering from a group perspective. The walkability to off-site events and activities without requiring a vehicle, or the option to ferry across the Savannah River, helps make Savannah popular from a group perspective.


Some local things to do include chasing down The Fabulous Equinox Orchestra in Forsythe Park, or taking a Savannah riverboat cruise on either the Georgia Queen or Savannah River Queen. Not only is the city a popular site for film production, but also the decadent food of Savannah is an attraction in and of itself. However, the walkability of Savannah makes it a place that will combat all the caloric extravagance. Here, the senses will experience more than they can consume, even when food is not involved. Often rain can ruin beach and golf excursions, leaving a visitor with no other options for entertainment, but Savannah offers more indoor activities than can possibly be experienced in one event week. Antique shopping, military museums or taking in a show at the Lucas Theatre for the Arts are just a few rainy-day options.


The impressive Savannah River is home to the Port of Savannah, and watching ship traffic is both breathtaking and surreal for tourists and locals who are out enjoying the Savannah Historic River Street trail, where the JW Marriott is also connected to what is known as the Three Muses building. The Three Muses offers European-inspired decor and art, stands as one of the most luxurious accommodations in Savannah and connects to the Plant Riverside District, which begs for exploration.


Planned Growth

Notably, corporate and incentive groups registering more than the 100 attendees mentioned early in the ETHOS sweet spot, have the Savannah Convention Center as an option. While medium to larger events could consider being scheduled at venues such as the Hyatt Regency Savannah or The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa, the convention center offers 330,000 sf of meeting space. Situated alongside the Savannah River, just across from the historic district, the Savannah-Georgia Convention Center Authority has cast the vision to be the premier event destination for larger groups, delivering exceptional service while creating memorable experiences. This mission, scheduled to be completed by 2024, will position the already-attractive convention center as the event venue of choice for large groups. The convention center is doubling the square footage of the current footprint, as well as constructing a state-of-the-art aircraft hangar for VIP traffic.

This expansion will be invaluable to Savannah as a whole; however, Fijol makes clear what he has noticed when he stated that larger events are not recently the most sought after following the lockdowns during the pandemic. Savannah, luckily, was able to continue operating with social distancing due to the amount of outdoor space available in the 22 town squares with shade cover. Today, the nature-friendly city is still hosting events as the drive for specialty experiences is stronger than ever.


Trending currently is the desire of a more tailor-made experience geared toward an exclusive crowd of top-producers and C-suite executives. ETHOS has a finger on the pulse of the post-COVID revitalization by use of artistic expression and strategic thinking. ETHOS experts are skilled at providing appropriate options, then executing every detail with planners and vendors.


The outdoorsy design of Savannah’s urban forest continues to present nature’s resplendent shelters of pleasant social distancing while reviving humanity. ETHOS is known for delighting participants with something like the unpredictable Pink Lady, none other than one of the signature cocktails of the iconic restaurant and planters tavern The Olde Pink House. The creative team has studied reactions of anyone who has ever imbibed of her charm, and they like what they see.


Spirited and vibrant, Savannah is a place that still offers coffee in fine china along with social graces. Savannah is a city of rooftops, a city of churches, a city of artists, a city of manners and a city of mixology, where holding hands, going on picnics, hearing quality jazz, visiting one of her 22 squares or making a visit to City Market is the perfect outing to inspire creativity. ETHOS places emphasis on using these attributes to curate unique and memorable experiences for groups in a city with ease of travel and logistics, while seeking out added value, availability and mobility of orchestrating weekday events.


The only difficulty to be found in planning an event in Savannah is that time will always be too short, sights will be too many to conquer in one trip and the food will be more opulent than previously thought possible. There are a couple of caveats to this terrible conundrum of not being able to absorb the seemingly infinite amount of art, history, beauty and cuisine: Meeting and incentive attendees will always leave wanting more of Savannah, and they will certainly leave better than before. This is exactly what ETHOS had hoped for — a perfect place to influence others while sending them home with an outlook primed to innovate the world. For this reason, ETHOS Event Collective is now a Savannah local, too. The beleaguered history of Savannah only served to make her want to be known. She is unforgettable and fair. A bright hope for the world on the heels of disparaging days. ETHOS knows Savannah, how to tell her stories, and is ready to make them known.


Corporate & Incentive Travel (themeetingmagazines.com)