South Carolina’s tourism industry topped $20 billion for the first time, the director of the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism announced Wednesday at the S.C. Governor’s Conference on Tourism and Travel.
“This growth was the result of increased consumer confidence boosted by a favorable economy, including lower gas prices,” said Duane Parrish, director of the tourism agency. “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 a significant economic impact.”
Parrish said the latest figures show tourism generated $20.2 billion in economic activity statewide in 2015, a 6.1 percent increase over 2014, and the fourth straight year of growth.
The industry is South Carolina’s largest, supporting 1 in 10 jobs and generating $1.5 billion in state and local tax revenues, he said.
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Final numbers for 2016 aren’t yet available, “but recent indicators suggest it was another great year,” he said.
An estimated 400 tourism professionals from across the state attended the three-day conference at the Spartanburg Marriott.
Allen Smith, president and CEO of the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce, said the event was a boost to the city’s image.
“Hundreds … from all over the state finally got to see what the locals know,” Smith said. “There is so much to discover in Spartanburg.”
He said the economic impact of tourism on Spartanburg “is unmistakable. In terms of tourism metrics, 2016 was a record year for Spartanburg County.”
Gov. Henry McMaster, Wednesday’s keynote speaker, touted the state's many attractions, from beaches and mountains to quality of life.
“We’ve got it all,” McMaster said. “The best thing we have is people. If you’re looking for an iceberg or a desert, you might as well go someplace else.”
On Tuesday, attendees toured the sights in Spartanburg in groups.
One group of about 35 stopped at RJ Rockers Brewery at 226-A W. Main St., where they tasted locally made beer.
Lochlan Wooten, director of marketing at the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden in Columbia, said it was her first visit to downtown Spartanburg.
“It’s vibrant. There’s a lot of construction,” she said. “It’s good to see progress.”
Jayne Baker, vice president of marketing for Lake Murray Country, said she was “pleasantly surprised” at Spartanburg.
“It’s nice to be a tourist for a day to experience what a tourist does,” she said.
Vicki Fletcher of Lake Hartwell Country said she was impressed by how the downtown had grown since her last visit six years ago.
“I think this conference will change some people’s impression about Spartanburg as a destination,” she said.
Chris Jennings, executive vice president of the Spartanburg Convention & Visitors Bureau, said he received positive feedback from participants.
“It’s been fantastic,” he said of the turnout. “The (state) tourism director said, ‘You knocked it out of the park.’”
On Monday, one session featured tourism security professional Peter Tarlow, who urged tourism officials to do all they can to ensure visitors have a safe stay.
“Remember, everything we stand for is not what terrorism stands for,” Tarlow said. “If I’m a terrorist, my job is to put you out of business. If you have well-trained security personnel, they’re going to earn you money.”
Follow Bob Montgomery on Twitter@bmontgomeryshj