Tourism Perspective

by V.C. Simpson

There are two very distinct types of tourism: pleasure and purpose. Pleasure tourism (like Myrtle Beach) is better known, but lower yield. Charleston does a great job of combining the two—but the big money comes from purpose drive tourism (like SE Wildlife, Spoleto, or conventions). MB’s tourism is low yield and mostly folks who can drive in, competing with places like Branson. Charleston, on the other hand, competes with cities like San Francisco and New Orleans for very pricey convention business and, at the other end of the spectrum, still competes for the same market (family of four, drives three to seven hours) as MB or other areas that are largely tourist driven.

I throw this background in for one reason: in developing a vision around tourism, we would do well to pursue only the purpose-driven sector, building on specific events and high yield targets. While we are physically attractive enough to go after the camper/hiker market, the profits are so low and the downsides so high that it is strategically a bad choice. BUT, purpose-driven tourism gets three cheers and a “thumbs up.”

Imagine a four-day meeting of, say, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, with docs and spouses enjoying the golf courses, restaurants, natural beauties, arts, theatre, ball field, and our superb hospital system showcased at the center of it all. Typically a four-day academy meeting adds $12- 15,000 per attendee to the host city’s coffers. And doctors are a pretty conservative bunch with a low impact (except the numbers) on a community. We have the events to build on (US Cycling, Euphoria, Artisphere, etc.).

We have the destinations (ICAR, BMW track, Hospital System). We have the arts community and the aesthetics. We have the natural beauty and the outdoor activities (from golf to pontoon boats to ballooning). But we don’t have the vision, strategy, or the in-place expertise.

As with too many things, our efforts—even our discussions!— are mired in thinking that is a decade or more old. One example? A recent survey asked about the degree to which we would embrace buying carbon credits (offsets) with an eye to putting a program in place here in the Upstate. However, the Chicago Climate Exchange (the only trading floor for carbon credits in the U.S.) has recently been shut down, the early players (like Terra Pass) are under fire as scams, and the once-interesting concept has been thoroughly discredited.

Purpose-driven, high-yield tourism could be a real boon to the area, but the approach would have to be a bold departure from the ho-hum mediocrity that is the state of affairs in the current model of Convention/Visitors Bureau thinking.

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