Hilton Head Island

Local chapter of SC Hospitality Association to hold inaugural meeting Wednesday

tbarton@islandpacket.comSeptember 4, 2012 

A local chapter of the S.C. Hospitality Association will meet for the first time Wednesday, seeking to create a unified marketing, lobbying and outreach effort for food-service and lodging professionals on Hilton Head Island and in Bluffton.

"(This local chapter) will increase visibility, deliver added value to area businesses and increase our local hospitality industry's lobbying power at the local, state and national levels," said chapter president John Munro, director of hospitality, sales and marketing at Sea Pines Resort.

Hospitality officials have been working to form a chapter for two years.

Organizers say they're undeterred by the February suicide of former SCHA executive director Tom Sponseller and the sentencing last month of Rachel Duncan, an accountant for the state organization who embezzled nearly $500,000 from the group to support a gambling addiction.

The SCHA board of directors granted affiliation to the local members last summer.

Members of the local chapter automatically become members of the state association and either the National Restaurant Association or the American Hotel & Lodging Association, according to the chapter's website.

Munro said the chapter, called the Hilton Head Island Bluffton Restaurant and Lodging Association, is separate from the retooled Hilton Head Hospitality Association. That group sought to disband in 2011 after 25 years because of waning membership and lack of money, but it still is intact, according to board member Tami Bream. It has become an all-volunteer group and focuses on organizing the Hilton Head Island Wine & Food Festival, Bream said.

Munro said the local chapter of the state hospitality association aims to fill a void for food-service and lodging professionals "searching for tools and resources needed to build a competitive advantage amidst our rapidly changing marketplace."

"We want to help members build customer loyalty, rewarding careers and financial success," he said.

The chapter also plans to work with the University of South Carolina Beaufort, Technical College of the Lowcountry and Beaufort County School District to develop a stronger hospitality-industry workforce through programs and scholarships with the S.C. Tourism and Hospitality Education Foundation, Munro said.

Attempts Thursday and Friday to reach Douglas O'Flaherty, SCHA director of operations, were unsuccessful.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.

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