Savannah, Georgia raises hotel/motel tax for first time in nearly three decades

Visitors to the host city of the South can expect to pay more for their lodging later this year as the Savannah City Council on Thursday approved an increase in the city’s hotel/motel tax from the current 6% to 8% effective September 1 has.

The 6-3 vote was the first time the tourism-heavy community had raised its tax rate since 1995, as years of disagreements between local politicians, business leaders and state lawmakers had meant the tax was frozen at its current level.

“Right now, 90% of Georgia cities pay a higher hotel/motel tax than we do,” Councilman Nick Palumbo said just before the vote. “Right now, we have an opportunity to repair a dilapidated and decaying river road that has had numerous emergency repairs that – up until this moment – the people of this city have had to pay for. And now the visitors of it.” The city has to pay for it.

Palumbo voted for the increase along with four other council members — including Alderman Detric Leggett, who represents the hotel-heavy Downtown Historic District — and Mayor Van Johnson.

(READ MORE: Recently damaged Savannah federal courthouse, a product of its time, says architectural historian)

“I think the prevailing sentiment in our community is that tourism should pay a larger share of community improvements and community improvements,” Johnson said, adding that the entire Chatham County Legislative Delegation voted in favor of a recently passed state law that that clear the way for the tax rate increase. “We are a tourist town. We enjoy being a tourist town. Whether you like it or not, tourism pays a large part of our bills.”

The tariff increase creates a new capital pool for the “development of tourism products”, which will be prioritized in a corresponding decision in the following order:

— $30 million redevelopment of River Street, Savannah’s waterfront.

— A $37 million redevelopment of the historic waterworks building and the creation of pathways, walkways and other connections between the Historic District, West Districts and Enmarket Arena.

— $10 million development and construction of the Tide to Town trail network.

— Completion of the remaining $8.5 million tourism product development projects under the resolution.

(READ MORE: Savannah seeks input on new name for plaza formerly named for slavery supporter John C. Calhoun)

Even with the new tourism product development projects, most of the hotel/motel tax revenue (37.5%) will continue to go to the city’s general fund, which has largely unrestricted uses.

Three council members voted against an increase in the hotel/motel tax rate increase – including the two full members of the panel, councilwoman Kesha Gibson-Carter and councilwoman Alicia Miller Blakely – with criticism that the tax revenue should not only fund tourism projects, but also projects for social programs Hospitality workers, such as assisting with accommodation, transportation and childcare.

“The tourism industry is built on the backs of poor, marginalized, working-class people of all stripes,” said Gibson-Carter. “The wages are extremely low. And while government mandates mean we can’t do anything about wages, as elected officials, we exert our influence in a variety of ways when it comes to helping people. And that goes for the hospitality industry and our hoteliers too.” , gather this additional resource, why not have some kind of conversation about how we can find out how they can increase wages or increase the earning potential, educational opportunities and growth potential of these workers ?

Like the current hotel/motel tax, the new tax will also apply to short-term vacation rentals, such as accommodation through Airbnb.