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Historic Camden presses for larger tourism role

Posted: February 21, 2013 4:48 p.m.
Updated: February 22, 2013 5:00 a.m.
Tonia Boling/C-I

Representatives from Historic Camden Revolutionary War Park are seeking feedback from Kershaw County and city of Camden officials in pursuit of a plan to have greater involvement in local tourism. As part of its push, Historic Camden has proposed transitioning towards more of an official tourism role by having a hand in the operation of the county’s visitor center.

Currently, the Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce is the sole operator of the visitor center in addition to serving as a promoter of local business interests. Chamber Executive Director Liz Horton declined to respond at this time to questions concerning Historic Camden’s proposal.

Dr. Tray Dunaway, chairman of the Historic Camden Foundation Board of Directors, presented the proposed change to Kershaw County Council on Feb. 12 and also plans to present the proposal to Camden City Council.

Dunaway believes Historic Camden already operates in a capacity virtually identical to a visitor center, particularly emphasizing the know-how of the site’s staff. 

“What we have is a director with 22 years of tourism expertise,” Dunaway said. “We give referrals for hotels, local amenities, and restaurants. We have a trained welcomed staff, regional tourist information, and we promote the local community.”

Dunaway noted that although Historic Camden is interested in expanding its visitors center role, it has no intention of taking away any of the other duties typically associated with the chamber, particularly business recruitment.

“I would like to work in synergy with the chamber; I truly would. We don’t need to fight them over anything, but I just think that if we had a welcome center at Historic Camden, even if it’s part-time or just the times when they’re not open, I think that would help,” he said.

Under the direction of the chamber, the current visitor’s center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays to Fridays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays.  

Dunaway explained that unlike the chamber, Historic Camden typically operates seven days a week, even beyond normal posted business hours.

“If you look at our hours, you’ll see Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 2 to 5 p.m. You don’t see Mondays on there, but if you happen to drop by, you’ll usually find the building is open,” he said. “Tourism destinations must be open when tourists arrive and a welcome center must be open seven days a week and provide all the amenities tourists expect from a welcome center. That seems self evident.”

Joanna Craig, executive director of Historic Camden, said the site is even occasionally open for visitation during holidays.

“I was actually there on Christmas Day last year when we’re technically closed and we had 25 people here looking for things to do,” Craig said. “They want to know where to go.”

She explained that, as a tourist attraction, Historic Camden can provide not only brochures and fliers, but is also able to offer a variety of services and activities at the site.

 “Because of the fact that we’re a museum, once they’re here, they can enjoy guided tours or picnics or walks around the nature trail. Plus, we can tell them, for instance, that there’s a race at the Motorsports Park or there’s an Equine Center event. We actually already fulfill that function anyway,” Craig said.

Additionally, she indicated that if Historic Camden could achieve national park status, it would offer even more incentive to have official visitor centers status at their location.

“That would have an absolutely positive effect on the community,” Craig said about being recognized as a national park. “It certainly would increase usage downtown from everything from restaurants to shopping to convenience stores to people just gassing up.”

At County Council Chairman Gene Wise’s request, county staff will explore Dunaway’s proposal.

County Administrator Vic Carpenter said staff will assess how other counties operate their local visitor centers and what is typically included as far as services.

“You have to have a measuring point and you have to be able to look at what others do to benchmark against them,” Carpenter said. “We’ll then come back and look at the current relationship with the chamber and the proposed relationship with Historic Camden and come up with a sense of which one may be in the best interests of the county.”

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