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Tourism: Marketing becomes a full-time occupation

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

A plan to fund a full-time tourism marketing director under a new arrangement with the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce was met with enthusiasm by members of County Council this week.

The plan would add $20,000 to what the county pays the chamber annually for tourism-related services, but is projected to create a much larger savings by eliminating the need to outsource tourism marketing services. It was presented as part of council’s approval of the annual tourism budget and renewal of its agreement with the chamber.

“We’re getting better, more direct control, more efficiency and we’ll save a lot of money? I like it,” Council Member Jerry Oakley said.

The county pays the chamber $60,000 a year to provide staff support to the Tourism Management Commission, the group council created in 2008 to handle tourism marketing.

The cost would go up to $105,000 with the hiring of a marketing director, but the chamber would start contributing $25,000 to marketing efforts and the commission agreed not to use the services of a marketing consultant anymore.

The estimated savings on consulting costs is between $50,000 and $95,000, so even spending an additional $20,000, the county expects to save $30,000 using the most conservative numbers, said County Administrator Sel Hemingway.

“Basically we’re cutting out the middle man,” Oakley said. “You’re proposing to hire a marketing professional like the firm we were using would hire,” but without the mark-up he expects the firm applied to their employee’s services.

Council Member Austin Beard commended the chamber staff and the commission for bringing the proposal to the table. He chairs council’s land use and tourism committee and worked on the agreement for several months in that role. What he learned in the process is that tourism “is an awkward beast with a lot of strings” regarding how funding is spent, he said.

“I think this will give us more bang for our buck and a more hands-on approach to the marketing process,” he said.

The Tourism Management Commission met for about 30 minutes in executive session last week to hammer out the last of the details of the agreement with council.

After returning to regular session they discussed details of advertising the new position. The deadline for applications will be Oct. 7.

More changes may be coming to the commission. Two of the seven seats are vacant. Members said they don’t see a real need to fill the open seats and believe the current members have the interests of the tourism industry in the county covered. They mentioned the possibility of having the remaining two seats eliminated.

With all the current members present, last week’s meeting had the best turnout the group has seen at least since March when the last appointment was made.

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