South Carolina’s tourism sector continues to boom.
For a fourth consecutive year, the industry experienced record growth in 2015, officials announced Wednesday at the S.C. Governor’s Conference on Tourism and Travel held this year in downtown Spartanburg.
Officials said tourism was worth $20.2 billion to the Palmetto State during the year, a 6.1 percent increase compared with 2014. One out of every 10 jobs was supported by tourism, and the industry generated $1.5 billion in state and local tax revenues.
While domestic visitor spending grew modestly in 2015, international visitor spending grew by 12.5 percent, and capital investments increased 25 percent.
Duane Parrish, director of the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism (SCPRT), said despite the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew, early calculations suggest 2016 could be another banner year for the industry.
“This growth was the result of increased consumer confidence boosted by a favorable economy, including lower gas prices,” Parrish said during a ceremony at the Spartanburg Marriott. “Add to that the enormous appeal of South Carolina’s destinations and a tourism industry that promotes these places, and you have a formula for significant economic impact.”
The state’s RevPAR, or revenue per available hotel room, increased 7.2 percent in 2016, compared with the previous year. The number reflected a 3.2 percent increase in hotel occupancy and 3.9 percent growth in average daily rates, according to SCPRT.
Although the number of hotel rooms in South Carolina has continued to increase steadily every year, the state’s RevPAR for 2016 was 54 percent higher than it was in 2010.
“If Boeing will come to South Carolina, if Michelin will come to South Carolina, Mercedes, Volvo … if they will all come to South Carolina that must be telling us something,” said Gov. Henry McMaster, during the ceremony. “Maybe we’ve got something that we ought to be very proud of and understand it’s very precious.”
McMaster touted the state’s people and its rich history. He said the state’s economy has not yet reached “maximum velocity.”
“I think that this time in the history of this state we’ve got more opportunity to excel and succeed and launch a great prosperity that will cause many of our problems to disappear,” he said.
Officials gave out three awards Wednesday.
Dorothy Stewart, an employee at the Hilton Garden Inn in Rock Hill, was named the state’s tourism professional of the year.
ArtFields, an art competition in Lake City, received the Charles A. Bundy award.
The Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival and Concours d’Elegance, was recognized with the Governor’s Cup award.
Spartanburg County hosted the conference this year for the first time since 2007.
Tourism had a more than $390 million economic impact on Spartanburg in 2015, according to SCPRT.
In 2016, the county benefitted from youth sports events and the NFL Carolina Panthers training camp, which by itself had a $13.1 million impact.
Chris Jennings, executive vice president of Spartanburg’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (SCVB), said the event attracted about 400 tourism officials from across the state and about 80 vendors.
“This was a great showing for Spartanburg,” Jennings said. “We, the community, came out in force to show how we’re changing. With diversity and quality of our offerings, we are a rising destination in this state.”
During the three-day event, participants were able to network with other professionals and learn from a variety of experts.
Jennings and the SCVB staff arranged activities to give those in attendance an opportunity to sample some of Spartanburg’s tourism offerings, including a tour of local craft breweries and distilleries, a tour of Spartanburg’s “Underground,” and a driving tour at the BMW Performance Center off Highway 101 across from BMW Manufacturing Co.
On Tuesday, members of the Panthers’ TopCats cheerleading squad and PurrCussion drumline roused participants with a performance in the hotel’s Heritage Ballroom.
“Hundreds of tourism professionals from all over the state, finally, got to see what the locals know. There is so much to discover in Spartanburg,” said Allen Smith, president and CEO of the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce. “Tourism in South Carolina is a $20 billion industry, and the impact on Spartanburg is unmistakable. In terms of tourism metrics, 2016 was a record year for Spartanburg County.”
Parrish said the 2018 S.C. Governor’s Conference on Tourism and Travel will be held Feb. 19-21 in Hilton Head.
For more information, visit www.scprt.com/governors-conference.