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By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

With the town of Pawleys Island prepared to go into debt to fund a beach nourishment project, tourism marketing has become a high priority. The $5.5 million on hand for beach management is money collected from a local tax on vacation rentals. The $2 million the town may borrow for the $13 million beach project will be repaid with future tax collections.

“I don’t know if people know how important this committee is,” Administrator Ryan Fabbri told the Pawleys Island Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee this week.

The town expects to take in $437,000 this year from its 3 percent local accommodations tax. It will also receive $250,000 from a 2 percent state accommodations tax. Together, they account for nearly half the town’s revenue.

The town applied last week for state and federal permits to place 900,000 cubic yards of sand on the beach from the south end to an area just north of the Pawleys Pier. It is still working on a grant application to the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism for $6.2 million. The agency is usually the one to go to for tourism grants, but the legislature gave it $30 million last year to match local funds for beach repair.

The beach project is essential to tourism. “When there is no high-tide beach, there are no tourists,” Mayor Bill Otis said. He told the advisory committee, “this is to protect what you guys are selling.”

The committee expanded its role last year from reviewing requests for a portion of the town’s revenue from the state accommodations tax to developing a tourism marketing plan. It has shifted funds away from print advertising toward social media.

This week, the committee approved a $14,000 bid from the S.C. National Heritage Corridor to create and manage a social media campaign for the coming year. The bid was less than half that of three competitors because some of the corridor’s services are funded through a federal grant. “They’re really amazing,” said Lauren Joseph, the tourism director for the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce, which provides services to the town.

With a marketing budget of less than $150,000, the town needs to focus its spending on media that produces referrals, committee member Besty Altman said.

Committee member Corinne Taylor agreed, but pointed out that much of the town’s print advertising is aimed at getting readers to go online to get information about vacation rentals.

And while she agreed with the social media initiative, she pointed out that it’s important to keep in mind the demographic of the island’s vacationers. “We have to be careful not to annoy people,” she said. “It’s the quality of the post that makes the difference.”

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