Before tourism in Savannah barely existed, Will Green was showing visitors around the Hostess City. Forty years later, Old Savannah Tours’ iconic trolleys rule the road as the oldest and largest transportation company.
Much has changed in the four decades since the Green family first began offering tours of historic Savannah.
Long gone are the two 12-passenger Dodge Vans that marked the humble beginnings of Old Savannah Tours, which began in 1979 with a handful of daily tours showing Savannah’s sights to the smattering of tourists who happened into town while headed down Interstate 95.
Will Green actually replaced those vans with a 25-seat luxury minibus when he moved back home to Savannah in 1983 and took a lead role in the family business, but he noticed tourists kept flocking to a competitor and its “old nasty trolleys” from the Tennessee state fair, so he eventually followed their lead.
Green traveled to California to scout some open-air trolleys, and the concept of Old Savannah Tours that locals and visitors have come to recognize and revere — with its signature white trolleys and unique tour offerings — was born.
Plenty of competitors have come and gone, including big national companies with a history of swallowing local operations like Green’s, but Old Savannah Tours has not only survived, but thrived. Savannah’s oldest tour company is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and has been voted the area’s best every year since 2003.
That hasn’t happened by accident. Green works hard to keep his company’s offerings fresh, adding a new themed tour every couple of years, and allowing tour guides to put their personal spin on things rather than working off a canned script.
“If you take 10 of our tours you’re going to get 10 different experiences,” Green said. “We’ve got some really, really good tour guides.”
Depending on your guide, you might hop off the Old Savannah Tours trolley feeling like an expert in Historic Savannah’s architecture, the city’s role in the Civil War, or the litany of films that have been filmed here. Tour guides are able to determine their topics of discussion at their discretion.
“As long as the people come back and rave and clap and love their tours, I’m fine with it,” Green said.
And speaking of Savannah’s film history, you never know when a character from one of the iconic movies set or shot here is going to show up on your trolley.
A few years ago, in an effort to add a new wrinkle to the tours, a local Forrest Gump impersonator began showing up along the route and hopping on a trolley from time to time. The new twist was a hit, and Green eventually added other characters — a total of 22, at the moment — who hop on and off and tell the story of Savannah through their own stories. Most tours include three or four special visitors, ranging from the waving girl on River Street or an old-time cotton broker to a Southern belle or Forrest Gump himself.
“It’s really added a wow factor to the tour,” Green said. “I think it really sets us apart from the competition.”
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