SC tourism agency plans to market a ‘barbecue trail’

abeam@thestate.comAugust 4, 2013 

— Brice Cannon sells 400 pounds of hog here every week from an old hot-dog stand.

His kitchen is a shed out back, where he keeps a pile of wood burning to produce the coals he needs to slow-cook pork in a 14-gallon fuel drum and hash in a cast-iron wash pot. On Thursday, he pulled a stack of ribs off the grill and tugged on one of the bones, watching the meat slip off without a fight.

Cannon’s BBQ is one of dozens of family-owned barbecue restaurants scattered across South Carolina, many only open a few days a week and known primarily to locals and barbecue aficionados.

Now, state tourism officials want to help them drum up more business, spending $1.2 million to promote the state’s “barbecue trail” in an effort to help hundreds of thousands of travelers and tourists find places like Cannon’s on their way to the state’s beaches or college football games.

To pay for that marketing blitz, S.C. lawmakers have given the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism more than $20 million in new money over the past two years, most of that money going to pay for advertising in Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head, Columbia, Charleston and Greenville.

But beginning this fall, the department will embark on a $3.5 million advertising campaign designed to showcase the state’s more rural areas, including the $1.2 million campaign, scheduled to begin later this month, highlighting the state’s barbecue culture.

“When you look at the all the small mom-and-pop barbecue places ... each one has its own character, its own following, its own little special item – like their recipe for banana pudding,” said Marion Edmonds, a spokesman for the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. “We can really have a lot of fun with that.”

The first phase of the new advertising campaign – done by BFG, the Hilton Head-based firm that has the state’s tourism advertising contract – will start at the end of August, timed to coincide with the start of college football season. The campaign will target areas within 350 miles of South Carolina, including North Carolina, Georgia and eastern Tennessee.

In addition to traditional paid advertisements on television and newspapers, the department is planning to expand its website to add a barbecue trail, guiding people through the state’s varied barbecue cultures, including the vinegar-based sauce in the Lowcountry, the mustard-based sauce in the Midlands and the ketchup-based sauce of the Upstate.

“You’ve got to look for niches when you are competing against Georgia and North Carolina,” said state Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley, chairman of the House budget subcommittee that oversees the state tourism agency’s budget. “That’s why we put money in the new advertising campaign trying to create a barbecue trail in rural areas to bring people into these small towns to experience that.”

Promoting Columbia, Myrtle Beach

In the 2013-14 budget year, which started July 1, lawmakers approved a $9 million increase for the state’s tourism agency, for the second consecutive year one of the largest increases given any state agency.

“We’ve been looking at a couple of good years here, and we’re turning around and plowing that back into the promoting and marketing of the state as a tourist destination,” Edmonds said.

Of that money, $4 million went to the state’s “destination specific tourism marketing program,” where the state matches local tourism dollars to pay for advertising and marketing costs.

In Columbia, for instance, 16 hotels add a $1 per-room, per-night charge to their customers’ bills that goes toward matching some of the state money. Columbia plans to use the money for billboard ads marketing Columbia attractions including the Saluda River and the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, according to Ric Luber, president and chief executive of the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports and Tourism.

In Myrtle Beach, tourism officials plan to use the money for advertising overseas in Europe and Canada, and in cities that have new air service to Myrtle Beach, including Philadelphia, Chicago and Dallas, according to Brad Dean with the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

‘Highlight of their trip’

Dean added he is happy about the $1.2 million statewide barbecue marketing campaign, saying it will benefit all of South Carolina.

A few months ago, Cannon – the barbecue cook in Little Mountain – said a family from Ohio stopped by for lunch on their way to a vacation in Hilton Head.

“They spent about four hours with us,” Cannon said of his small restaurant, only open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. “They said it was the highlight of their trip.”

Selling S.C.

Over the past two years, S.C. legislators have given $20 million in new money to the state’s tourism agency, the biggest increases given any agency. Where is the money going?

$9 million

The increase given Parks, Recreation and Tourism in the budget year that started July 1

$4 million

The amount the agency will spend this year in its “destination-specific tourism marketing program,” where the state matches local money spent to promote tourism

$1.2 million

The amount the tourism agency will spend to promote a “barbecue trail” in South Carolina, hoping to direct travelers and tourists to unique eateries, many off main thoroughfares

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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