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Tourism: Shopping for just the right gift

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Some Christmas shoppers will surely sympathize with Lauren Joseph. Not only is she looking for the perfect gift, she needs a gift that keeps on giving.

She’s leaning toward an insulated tote bag.

Joseph is the Georgetown County tourism director and she’s shopping for something that will make an impression on 500 people who will attend February’s S.C. Governor’s Conference on Tourism and Travel. The conference will be held in Myrtle Beach and the county Tourism Management Commission wants to use the opportunity to promote the Hammock Coast brand it’s adopted. Rather than go with a standard $750 sponsorship, the commission authorized Joseph to spend up to $5,000. “Go big or don’t go,” commission member David McMillan said.

But all the good sponsorships had been snapped up by the time Joseph got the commission’s approval last month. The conference organizers at the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism told Joseph to go with the $750 level and put the rest of her budget into “good swag” that will go into gift bags for the participants.

Joseph pitched the idea to the commission last week. After the insulated tote, she had her eye on stainless steel drink bottles. They would have Hammock Coast logos along with the names of the communities it includes. She also did some research into what recipients don’t want, such as pens, flash drives and koozies.

“A beach towel stays in the house for generations,” said Bob Seganti, the commission chairman. “I’ve got a million totes and water bottles.”

Joseph considered that. She has a beach towel that she can’t do without, even though it says “Visit Myrtle Beach.” But she said a decent beach towel may be too big to fit in the gift bag, especially with the swag from other sponsors.

Commission member David Teems said he likes large bottle openers. “I use one every day,” he said.

McMillan suggested a knock-off Tervis tumbler.

Or T-shirts, Seganti said.

“Guys wear T-shirts. Women really don’t wear T-shirts except around the house or to sleep in,” Joseph said.

“You’re on the right track with the beach theme,” Seganti said.

Joseph thinks the insulated totes have the edge in size and utility, but she also has a local source for beach towels, ones that have a pocket so they can be slipped over a beach chair. The audience at the tourism conference may be surprised.

On the road | The online travel site DreamPlanGo is one of the most expensive media used by the tourism commission to reach prospective visitors at $16.79 per thousand views. But it also has the highest rate of engagement.

“That got me thinking,” Joseph said. “Let’s think about putting more money into the folks who are actually sending us business.”

She recommended the commission spend $30,000 to become a sponsor of the DreamPlanGo annual Road Trip Week. That includes online ads, an electronic newsletter and social media from April 12 to 19. With the deal, the Hammock Coast would “own the day” on one of those dates, Joseph said.

The county’s beaches have a loyal following and many repeat visitors, she said. “One of the challenges is getting the word about us to new people,” Joseph said.

Commission members were concerned about the timing: too late for Easter and school spring breaks, too soon for summer.

“We like the idea, we don’t like the date,” said Helen Benso, the former commission chairman who has returned for a new term as a commission member.

“It seems like it would be better 30 days earlier or later,” Seganti said.

But Joseph said the promotion isn’t aimed a spring-breakers. It’s intended to reach people who take road trips during the summer.

The commission agreed to add it to the $281,825 it has budgeted for interactive advertising. That will still leave the commission with cash on hand at the end of the year.

Tax collections | Georgetown County was fourth among the state’s 46 counties in accommodations tax collections for the quarter ending Sept. 30, according to PRT. Because of past accounting errors, the state Department of Revenue can’t provide a meaningful comparison from the previous year, but revenue from the county’s own accommodations tax is up 6 percent through November, Joseph said.

Accommodations tax collected in the county amounted to $1.22 million in the quarter. Horry County led the state with $12.1 million, followed by Charleston ($6 million) and Beaufort ($4.1 million) counties.

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