By SAMANTHA PIDDE
USA Today recently named Savanna as the number one "Best Small Town for Adventure" and Mayor Chris Lain said he hopes the award will allow more people to enjoy what the community has to offer.
"We have been working hard to promote Savanna through Explore Savanna,” Mayor Lain told the Savanna Times-Journal in an email. “And tourism is so essential to the future of our community. The more outside visitors we bring into the City the more money is spent.”
Added Mayor Lain, “This adds businesses, jobs and increases our sales tax revenue. We have had a huge increase in revenue this year. That money pays for the road projects we are seeing around town. It is so huge for our community to get free recognition like this. And every single person should be proud of that.
“Those visiting Savanna see something very special and we can market the city all we want, but if they don't have a great experience when they get here, they won’t be back or tell their friends. Every business owner, employee and service club members had a huge role in making this happen."
Last year Savanna was listed fourth on USA Today's list of top 20 towns. Savanna Marketing Director Brienna Junk was watching and waiting for the winners to be announced this year on Nov. 5.
"When we saw our name back on the list again this year, we were hopeful to just make it back in the top 5, and as readers choice voting got pushed, we saw Savanna hold the top spot before the leaderboard closed and we awaited the results," Junk told the Times-Journal via email.
"I was sitting in my office watching the USA Today countdown for results and as soon as it struck 0, I refreshed the page and saw that Savanna was named #1,” said Junk. “Being excited is an understatement. I immediately called Mayor Lain. We're so excited for this title, but above all, we're just proud."
Both Lain and Junk attribute much of the success to how the city has been promoted. Lain explained they "changed the way we marketed the City" four years ago and "started building an adventure tourism industry. Junk's position as marketing director was created by Lain when he was elected mayor in 2018.
"Savanna has always been a popular spot for bikers and outdoor enthusiasts, but it was never publicly marketed outside of local magazines,” said Junk. “I came in and completely changed the way Savanna had been marketed, creating 'Explore Savanna' as a brand and changing 90 percent of our advertising to digital. Savanna went from very minimal exposure to over 16k people following our page and many more actually visiting in just a few short years."
Explore Savanna is run entirely by Junk, with her creating and designing everything from the billboard, video content, graphic design for magazine ads, tracking analytics and advertising.
Lain thanked Junk in a recent Facebook post for working with him and "changing the way we marketed Savanna," saying, “She put her heart and soul into building up this industry and making Explore Savanna a huge success.”
According to Lain, the city has been very busy the past two years in tourism, noting that this year Savanna made its tourism dollar budget in six months and anticipates "finishing up 30 percent in tourism this year."
"It's a huge industry and we are always growing. We had a record year this year and this award will hopefully get us a lot more attention. We hope to get a lot more promotion from the state as well," said Lain, adding, "Because of last year’s award, Savanna had a full page article in the Chicago Tribune as well as Chicago Magazine and numerous articles in other papers and t.v. as well."
Lain and Junk highlighted all of the attributes they feel make Savanna the "Best Small Town for Adventure."
"Savanna has always been an overlooked 'Hidden Gem' for people looking to get away, be outside, and still have the small town experience," Junk said.
The city has so much to offer for adventure, they said, including: the Great River Bike Trail, Ingersoll wetlands, bird sanctuary, birding tours, kayaks to rent, tubing adventures, and Mississippi River activities.
Lain pointed out that Mississippi Palisades State Park, which is good for hiking, overlooks and camping, is the only state park where rock climbing is allowed.
Junk said people can drive down the Great River Road (which was named a National Scenic Byway/All-American Road Designation this year), admire the bluffs of the Driftless Region or stroll through city's historic downtown, with buildings dating back to the 1800s. Savanna also offers live music and entertainment "all weekend long."
"We are definitely the place to come to if you are seeking some weekend adventure," Lain said.
Junk reiterated how excited the city is to receive this recognition from USA Today.
"Tourism has a monumental impact on small communities like us and has the power to not only reconnect people, but sustain our local businesses,” she said. “We've welcomed people from all over the world and take pride in being a welcoming community to all. We're proud to receive this kind of recognition and thank everyone for allowing us to show our small historic river town in a new light.”
For more information on Savanna's tourism, visit the Explore Savanna website: https://www.exploresavanna.com.