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Tourism: Golfers learn to play with renters

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Plans to send the county’s tourism marketing director to a golf expo in Canada next year have reopened a debate about how much the county should spend to promote golf. That comes as the director of golf at True Blue and Caledonia is poised to become chairman of the county Tourism Management Commission.

Bob Seganti, who is awaiting approval from Georgetown County Council to take over as chairman from Helen Benso, said his goal is to make sure all the parts of the local tourism industry work together. His job also includes managing rental properties for golf vacations. “I earn a living from tourism,” he said. “If there was a division of thoughts and philosophies in the past, my goal would be to get them working together.”

The commission will spend $500 to participate with the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism in golf shows in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. It will spend $1,600 to send Lauren Cobb, the tourism marketing director, to the Toronto show.

Cobb will also need material to hand out at the show. The county’s golf brochure hasn’t been changed since marketing was handled by the Georgetown County Visitors Bureau. Criticism that the now-defunct bureau put too much emphasis on golf marketing was one reason Georgetown County Council created the Tourism Management Commission to take its place.

“It was a big factor,” County Council Member Jerry Oakley said. “The commission can’t be seen to favor one segment.”

He thinks Seganti is a good choice to succeed Benso.

“He seems to have the perspective that’s needed,” Oakley said. “And he has enthusiastic support from his peers.”

Most of the commission’s marketing efforts are aimed at getting potential visitors to the county’s tourism website and from there to companies that provide overnight accommodations. The marketing is funded by revenue from a state accommodations tax.

The commission cooperates with the Waccamaw Golf Trail, a consortium of 11 courses, for golf marketing. That accounts for $60,000 out of the commission’s $740,000 budget. But the partnership was a boost for the golf trail, which had been repeatedly denied accommodations tax funds for marketing from County Council.

The commission will contribute $30,000 toward a $69,000 spring golf promotion for the trail. That plus the golf expo prompted commission member Matt Giltmier to question whether spending is equitable among the various sectors of the tourism industry.

“I’m not anti-golf. I just want to be fair,” he said.

Restaurants and retailers are also part of the tourist economy, but don’t have any funds allocated to specific promotions, he said.

The difference, said commission member Lou Lachicotte, is that golf courses and vacation rental companies spend money outside the market to attract visitors.

Golfers also eat and shop, Seganti said. “All those other things are going to happen when they get here.”

The other benefit of golf promotion is that it aims at a segment that comes during the spring and fall, the so-called shoulder seasons, he added.

He believes the Canadian promotion makes sense. “I know I’m a golf guy, but that’s the only growing market for golf in Myrtle Beach,” Seganti said. “It’s a mistake not to go.”

Only about 10 percent of the commission’s advertising budget is spent directly on golf, Cobb said. She started work as marketing director in September and recently presented the commission with a revised media plan.

But Benso pointed out “we do include a golf message in all the interactive [ads] we do.”

In addition to approving the golf promotions, the commission also agreed to shift two online ad campaigns Cobb had scheduled to start in March to January to target golfers as well as families who plan summer vacations when they get together over the holidays.

John Rusher, executive director of the Waccamaw Golf Trail, offered to provide material to hand out at the expo, which will save $4,500 that Cobb estimated as the cost to produce a new brochure. And he suggested the trip to Toronto could also benefit area restaurants.

At the show, which Rusher has attended, “a lot of people are going to say, ‘I was there last week’ or ‘I’ll be there next week,’” he said. Cobb needs to take coupons from restaurants to hand out.

Benso said that would have the added advantage of helping the commission track the impact of the expo.

She has led the commission through two changes of ad agencies, the development of the Hammock Coast as a way to define the county’s beaches and the creation of the marketing director’s position. Benso, Giltmier and David Teems have all served since the seven-member commission was created in 2008.

“It’s been four years and we’ve made some significant progress,” she said.

One area where that’s particularly true is in directing funds toward ad placement rather than ad materials. Benso balked at a request by Cobb for a $25,000 update on “creative” materials.

“We have spent thousands and thousands of dollars on creative,” she said. “I want to minimize as much as possible the money we spend on creative.”

Other members agreed.

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