When Dyanne Hughes, CMP, an independent planner from Amelia Island, Fla.-based The Meetings Solution, realized her association client was outgrowing self-contained conferences held in a single hotel, she turned her sights toward Savannah.

“I was looking for a smaller, compact city that would work, and not be overwhelming to a group, for a convention center and hotel package, and Savannah had the new Savannah International Trade & Convention Center,” she says. “So it was the perfect mix—a couple of hotels and a convention center.”

Hughes says her group, the 1,100-strong Association of Educational Service Agencies (AESA), used the convention center for morning and lunch general sessions, and also for about 13 concurrent breakouts. And since the AESA typically meets after Thanksgiving, a temperate climate was also called for, which was another factor in Savannah’s favor.

Perhaps the greatest deal-closer, though, was the flavor and accessibility of the destination.

“The food, the restaurants, everything was walkable—this is a group that’s used to being self-contained in a single property, and they have a great reputation for enjoying good food,” she says. “And frankly, for the board, it was pricing—it’s cost-effective to go there.”

Hughes bought out The Historic Savannah Theatre (www.savannahtheatre.com) and utilized its Jukebox Journey presentation for an evening event, after attendees returned from dinner on their own.

Some of the restaurants Hughes recommended were the Olde Pink House, located in a brick Georgian mansion built in 1771 for James Habersham; the family-oriented Pirate’s House (www.thepirateshouse.com); and The Lady & Sons (www.ladyandsons.com), a popular home-cooking establishment operated by Paula Deen and her boys.

“Everybody could experience the dining downtown and then experience a personal performance where we had the whole house,” Hughes says. “We have different affiliates. I don’t know what they did, but they were out every night. We had hotels on both sides of the [Savannah] river, so they could easily get everywhere.”

Because the group was housed on either side of the river, Hughes says, she was faced with the challenge of utilizing water taxis during a foggy day to transport attendees to the convention center, but says the CVB is amenable to setting up alternative transportation via bus.

“When it’s something like fog, you can’t control it,” she says, “but you have to have a Plan B in place.”

Hughes says the Savannah Area CVB helped her with selecting off-site venues, and the group has decided to head back for a future conference.

“They’re actually going back in 2011 because they had such a good experience—so that says something,” she says.