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Award-winning journalist Elizabeth Becker talks tourism to packed house; two more events tonight and tomorrow
Elizabeth Becker - photo by Emily Earl

ALMOST 150 people showed up at the Sentient Bean last night to hear what Elizabeth Becker had to say about tourism in Savannah.

The best-selling author of Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism spent years studying how countries and communities manage the influx of visitors, result of the fairly recent phenomenon of global travel.

A self-proclaimed outsider to the industry, Becker has identified the best and worst practices worldwide and uncovered how the United States has come rather late to the game when it comes to the regulation and funding of policies that protect resources and workers.

Invited to town by the grassroots civic organization Emergent Savannah, Becker will be meeting with city officials and giving several talks on the city’s options for the future. Becker compared Savannah in size to Bordeaux in the South of France, which anticipated the growth in its travel industry and created sensible infrastructure.

She also cited the crumbling chaos of Venice, Italy as a cautionary tale for the world, describing how locals have been priced out of the city’s center, leaving nothing authentic for responsible travelers to enjoy.

“It was once the most beautiful city in the world,” she lamented. “And it’s been ruined by tourism.”

With a somewhat apologetic reference to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Becker spoke to Savannah’s specific advantages and challenges. She lauded the city’s strong community and European-style charms but urged a larger, more complete vision for the future.

“I’m not sure you’ve decided who you are and where you want to go,” she said.

During the 15 minute Q&A, attendees were especially interested in the effect of the tourism boom on Savannah’s fragile historic infrastructure, how to manage the proliferation of short-term rentals and what to do about all those low-wage hotel jobs that perpetuate the city’s crime issues and working poor.

(Becker’s definitive answer to the latter: “Organize.”)

Savannahians can hear Becker speak at two more events: Tonight (Tues. Feb. 16) 6:15-7:15pm at Southbound Brewery, 107 E. Lathrop, and tomorrow (Wed. Feb. 17) 5:30-7pm at Coastal Georgia Center, 305 Fahm Street.

Read more in next week’s Civil Society Column.