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Tourism director projects increased rural support

Posted: February 1, 2013 5:04 p.m.
Updated: February 4, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Kershaw County Tourism Director Darron Kirkley anticipates a greater push to attract tourists to more rural parts of the state after hearing tourism trend updates during last week’s Governor’s Conference on Travel and Tourism.

The three-day conference, now in its 48th year, brought together industry leaders to share insights and discuss the future of the state’s hospitality business. After taking part in the expo, Kirkley noted a new ad agency handling the state’s tourism efforts will be concentrating on places like Kershaw County, which should help bring in more tourist dollars.

Through the “Discover the Undiscovered” campaign, the state’s new advertising gurus, BFG Communications of Bluffton, will be looking for ways to market the state’s lesser known travel spots.  

“There’s never been a push towards advertising like that in this part of the state,” Kirkley said. “Historically, the state’s advertising has been tied to your bigger destinations like for golf tourism, beaches and mountains. There hasn’t been that push towards rural tourism and what’s available in the rural areas of the state.”

He explained while the idea of promoting South Carolina’s hidden gems certainly sounds promising, the plan is currently in the early stages and has to be hashed out before officially launching.  

“They’re very committed to that new campaign and to what the smaller communities have to offer,” he said, noting BFG’s advertising concept. “It’s coming, but it’s still in the planning stages. You’re not going to see an ad for it starting tomorrow. There has to be a lot of research that goes on with that.”

Kirkley also noted the development of a coalition of both large and small cities and counties is currently in the works to help promote tourism in the state, particularly when it comes to recreation. By coming together, the state should be able to more effectively draw interest to potential attractions and events. Kirkley said that could hypothetically involve attractions ranging anywhere from a ping pong championship to a statewide bicycle race to even a local archery tournament. By bringing more tourism partners on board, the state can perhaps find untapped resources in smaller communities, he said.  

“As a county, we’ve never really had the finances to try and go out and look at those possibilities, but by participating in that coalition, we will still have leads and information from the other players in the industry. We’ll still be able to get those contacts from those larger destinations to see what’s even out there,” Kirkley said.

Additionally, the conference spotlighted the state’s equine industry, including highlighting successful efforts in Kershaw County.

“Teri Teed from the Carolina Cup was actually one of the panelists for that. They also had panelists from Aiken and Myrtle Beach, different places that put on equine tourism events,” Kirkley said. “I certainly wanted to hear what they were doing and how they operate their events.”

He said educational tourism opportunities also exist, which involve promoting destination spots for activities like field trips.  

“Say a school group is coming from Georgia through Columbia to get to Charlotte, if we can get them to come in and go to Historic Camden or the Equine Center, then there’s a benefit to us,” he said. “We have to try to see if there’s any interest. There may be or there may not be, but it’s definitely a positive if we can get our name out there.”

As the tourism season approaches with the transition to spring weather, Kirkley noted the state’s tourism department is projecting a rebound in hospitality dollars, perhaps returning to pre-recession levels. He pointed to revenue generated by accommodation taxes, which are imposed on the proceeds from any room, lodging, or sleeping accommodation charges, as providing a keen snapshot of tourism’s strength moving forward.   

“By looking at statistics over the past year in 2012, tourism has increased. Obviously, the goal is to keep accommodation revenues increasing and the trend shows that it’s been doing that,” Kirkley said. “You look at the average daily rate of hotels and revenue per available hotel room and those have increased as well. If people are paying more and willing to pay more, then that’s a good thing.”

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