100517 Tourism: Looking for lessons from a once-in-a-lifetime event
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Visitors from Virginia watch the eclipse on Pawleys Island.

Tourism: Looking for lessons from a once-in-a-lifetime event

By Nikki Best
Coastal Observer

South Carolina was the last state on the path of totality of the Great American Eclipse and tourism flourished because of it. It was the biggest weekend of the year.

“The impact of travel and tourism in the state in just one year is $20.2 billion, so in just one weekend, the eclipse generated about 1.2 percent of what we normally do in an entire year,” said Dawn Dawson-House, Director of Corporate Communications at state PRT. “It was a weekend and Monday that is usually mild because summer is winding down and kids are back in school.”

August’s eclipse was a once in a lifetime event, so the spike in tourism revenue isn’t something that can be expected annually. Nevertheless, knowing what worked and what didn’t work will help municipalities prepare for future events.

About 1.6 million people traveled to or within South Carolina to view the total solar eclipse last month, according to the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. Half of those came from out-of-state, primarily Georgia, North Carolina and Florida. “Their hotel bookings and other travel expenditures left an estimated $269 million economic impact across the state.”

That averages out to about $50 per person spent per S.C. eclipse viewer when the 3.8 million local viewers, those who didn’t travel, are taken into consideration. Most visitors stuck to the larger cities of Charleston, Columbia and Greenville, but Georgetown County felt an impact since it was part of the totality path. The county does not have final numbers for the impact of the eclipse, which is measured by accommodations and hospitality taxes. The town of Pawleys Island expects to have the data on its tax collections from the eclipse weekend this month, Administrator Ryan Fabbri said.

Another unique event that garnered national attention was a moment-of-the-eclipse wedding at the Kaminski House in Georgetown. For a destination that’s smaller, like the “Hammock Coast,” getting publicity on the level of the New York Times is a feather in the cap, the county tourism development director, Jennifer Norman, said. “That’s once in a lifetime coverage right there,” she said. “Not only did the New York Times send a reporter and do a digital story, we actually appeared in print.” The audience for the story is estimated at more than 30 million via print, broadcast and web.

A different one-off event that could be comparable was the 2012 PGA Championship held at Kiawah Island.

It generated an economic impact of $193 million, but PRT said, “the eclipse is the largest single tourist event on record in South Carolina.”

Annual events so far in 2017 with significant economic impacts include the Spoleto Festival in Charleston which attracted 70,000 people and had a $43 million economic impact. The RBC Heritage Golf Tournament on Hilton Head Island attracted 130,000 people and had a $96 million in economic impact.

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