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Tourism: To promote its history, county dusts off a plan

By Charles Swenson
COASTAL OBSERVER

The group charged with the marketing Georgetown County to tourists will reach into its archives and dust off a plan to promote the area’s history. “We’re missing a huge opportunity,” said Bob Jewell, a member of the county Tourism Management Commission.

Jewell, who is outgoing president and CEO of Brookgreen Gardens, will work with commission member David McMillan and Lauren Joseph, the county tourism director, to revive an initiative to draw visitors to historic sites. Jewell and McMillan were involved in the previous effort, which led to creation of a brochure and map of those sites. “We have that resource,” Jewell said.

The Georgetown County Visitors Bureau, the commission’s predecessor, developed the $22,000 brochure from a $40,000 historical survey commissioned by the bureau and the state Department of Archives and History in 2004. “It’s an awesome map,” said Kathi Grace, president of the Chamber of Commerce and a member of the county Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee that recommends funds for tourism-related projects. It promotes what the late Capt. Sandy Vermont, a tour operator, called the county’s “acres of history, mystery and romance,” she said.

The goal now is to get those maps into the hands of people who will visit the county, McMillan said. Promoting history is a way for Georgetown County to draw tourists from Myrtle Beach for day trips. “They can’t do this in Myrtle Beach,” he said.

“I’m confident we can get money if we have a plan,” Jewell said. The previous initiative stalled when the county reorganized its tourism marketing. “It just disappeared,” he said.

Joseph said she has put money into the commission budget for history promotion, but it’s been cut when full funding through the county’s accommodations tax wasn’t forthcoming. But the commission budget is now at $1 million and it expects to have $135,000 in cash on hand by the end of the current fiscal year in June.

“We have good presence in other areas of marketing,” Jewell said. “In this one we don’t.”

The 2006 study found four areas that qualified as “historic districts”: part of downtown Andrews, a collection of black schools and churches around the county, the Yawkey Wildlife Center at the entrance to Winyah Bay and the Hammock Shops complex. That raised hopes that history could help expand tourism beyond the Waccamaw Neck and downtown Georgetown. The tourism commission’s renewed effort comes at a time when there is a revived interest in promoting the Francis Marion Trail, a collection of sites related to the Revolutionary War and the leader of the American troops.

“We have not taken advantage of Francis Marion,” Joseph said. (“People think he was from Marion,” McMillan said.) And the popularity of the Broadway musical “Hamilton” is a springboard for interest in Theodosia Burr Alston, the daughter of Aaron Burr who lived for a time at a plantation that is now part of Brookgreen Gardens.

The timing is also good for Georgetown County, commission members say because Charleston is becoming overcrowded and Myrtle Beach is looking for ways to broaden its appeal. Joseph said there is evidence of the former in the response to the county’s promotion of wedding venues and evidence of the latter in a presentation she saw last week from the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. She estimated about half the images in the presentation were from Georgetown County.

People who travel for history stay longer and spend more money than other visitors, according to the 2006 study. “Our goal would be to increase tourism,” Jewell said.

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