|By Adam Van Brimmer, Savannah Morning
News, Ga.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 14, 2010--Tybee Island's tourism leaders projected the summer of 2010 would be among the busiest on record.
They never imagined a tourist season so strong as to sweep away both records and expectations.
Combined bed tax revenue in April, May, June, July and August climbed by more than 11 percent from the previous summer record, set in 2008. Island hotels and vacation rental companies saw a 23 percent gain in June and a 29 percent uptick in July versus 2008.
Year-to-date revenues were up 16 percent over 2008 as of Aug. 31 and 23 percent over the first eight months of 2009.
"This summer exceeded expectations, to be sure," said Greg Stoeffler, owner of the DeSoto Beach Hotel and finance director of the Tybee Island Tourism Council. "Visitors love the island. They love the laid-back feeling of the island. It was a great summer for us."
The summer was an important one for the future of island tourism, too. Unique circumstances, most notably the dawn of the economic recovery, the BP oil well disaster and the release of the Miley Cyrus film, "The Last Song," led to an uptick in first-time visitors.
Those newcomers left impressed, if the buzz heard by council staffers at recent tourism conferences is any indication.
"They like what Tybee has to offer," said Vicky Buck, the council's sales and operations coordinator. "People like that there are no 20-story high rises with six pools and a golf course across the street. They like that the island is really relaxed and family oriented."
Tybee put its "best face forward" during the high season and should expect to be rewarded in future years, said Amy Gaster, president of the tourism council. Gaster owns and operates Tybee Vacation Rentals and said the request she heard most from customers at checkout this summer is "to stay longer."
Her company has already seen repeat customers this season. Visitors who stayed a week during the summer have come back for weekend getaways this fall.
"We're an option now," Gaster said. "Whereas before people just said, 'Let's go to Florida,' now they're looking at us."
The fall season has been strong so far, too. The council expects September revenues to be near record levels. Occupancy rates have remained high in October because of the warm weather and absence of storm activity.
The DeSoto's "no vacancy" sign has been lit every night this month, Stoeffler said.
"And it's not just us. It's most of the hotels on the island," he said. "The weather has been great, and the marketing campaign is working."
The council launched the "Fall in Love with Tybee" campaign in August. The push included vacation specials and trumpeted the events that mark just about every fall weekend at Tybee and in Savannah, from the Pirate Fest to the Savannah Jazz Festival.
Council marketing coordinator Lindsay Fruchtl is working on a winter marketing plan aimed at "snowbirds" -- senior citizens who live in northern states -- and families who live within driving distance.
"People are wanting to travel more," Fruchtl said. "We want to give them the opportunity to see what we have to offer here."
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