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  • Writer's pictureGM Shay

TLC Awards 2019

Recently I was selected to be the recipient of a great and honorable award from Savannah’s Tourism Leadership Council. The TLC was formed 21 years ago to be an advocacy group for the tourism industry in Savannah and surrounding areas, and to work to transform the industry’s image from that of low paying part-time jobs to that of great careers for local people in a culture of hospitality. Working with strategic partners such as Visit Savannah, Savannah Vocational Technical College, the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center, and area employers, as well as local municipal governments, our hospitality industry now is routinely rated as one of the top visitor’s destinations in North America, and some of our restaurants boast James Beard Award winning chefs and venues. Today we are one of the most attractive destinations in the hospitality industry, but the best is still yet to come…

Receiving the Herb and Franklin Traub Visionary Award is the Tourism Leadership Council’s top honor, and it is not given every year, so I am especially thankful for receiving it in 2019. Michael Owen’s kind introduction made it clear that part of being recognized as a visionary was because of my dedication to the long term interests of the community and not just my own. Things like my leadership in helping to attract the 1996 Olympics to Savannah, the advocacy for a new convention center, and the help in developing a zoning overlay that protected sensitive historic areas of Savannah’s center city from large scale hotel development were cited as examples. For me though, the most gratifying moments were seeing tourism industry careers of great distinction—for valets, bell hops, housekeepers and greeters—receiving awards for their professionalism and pride in their work. Just a few great examples of the 29,000 careers that are a direct consequence of our shared visions.

I have taken a lot of criticism for being a lifelong advocate for hospitality in Savannah, mostly from people who see Savannah as more of a gated community, or a historic theme park. Savannah’s culture has always been about the marriage of art and commerce though, and that union is nowhere better manifested than in hospitality. Getting an award for being a visionary in this industry is a great honor. Savannah is one of those places that people from all over the world come to enjoy and learn about, so we should all be very proud of that tradition.

I would like to give special thanks to my wife Janice for her unwavering support, and for my former partners Eric Meyerhoff and Bob Gunn for showing me how to make more Savannah with places like River Street and City Market. I would not be able to be a visionary without them.

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