Concours d'Elegance continues to rev Hilton Head economy

tbarton@islandpacket.comOctober 22, 2012 

In this file photo, an entrant in the Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival and Concours d'Elegance motors his way through a crowd of people at Honey Horn on Hilton Head Island. The festival is moving this year from Honey Horn to Port Royal Golf Club.


  • Want to go?

    Highlights of the Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival & Concours d'Elegance:

  • Savannah Speed Classic: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, beside Westin Savannah Harbor Resort & Spa, Hutchinson Island. Tickets: $20 at the gate.

  • Legends of the Lowcountry, featuring a tribute to Johnny Mercer: 6-9 p.m. Nov. 1, Westin Hilton Head Island Resort. Tickets: $50, 843-686-4100 or

  • Car Club Jamboree and Motoring Midway: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 3, Honey Horn; $30 at the gate.

  • Concours d'Elegance and Motoring Midway: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 4, Honey Horn; $35 at the gate.

    Details and full schedule:

Nothing revs the local tourism engine during the off-season quite like the Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival & Concours d'Elegance.What began as a two-day event 11 years ago has grown into a 10-day fall extravaganza that continues to draw bigger crowds and reach more visitors from farther away who stay longer and spend more than the typical Hilton Head tourist.

The result is an economic boon of more than $5 million for island hotels, restaurants and shops, according to festival organizers.This year's festival begins Friday and runs through Nov. 4, with events scheduled in Savannah and on Hilton Head.

Attendance has grown since 2008 by nearly 46 percent, to 14,600. More than 48 percent of those visitors come from outside a 50-mile radius, representing 47 states and more than 10 countries, according to statistics compiled by professor John Salazar and his students at the University of South Carolina Beaufort.

"During these difficult economic times, many antique automobile events have taken extreme hits economically; however, (the Hilton Head) event continues to grow and prosper," motoring festival sponsor and exhibitor David Landow of Maryland said.

Automotive enthusiasts, collectors, judges and sponsors attribute the festival's success in part to the area's natural beauty and its amenities, such as art, food and live entertainment.

In 2010, the festival began partnering with several restaurants to showcase their culinary talents on-site to exhibitors. The festival will again partner with the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina for an abridged satirical performance of the complete history of America, and it will host a dinner featuring Bob Lutz, former vice chairman of General Motors.

New this year is a tribute concert to Johnny Mercer and the "CARscapes" art exhibit at the Hilton Head Art League's Walter Greer Gallery.

"We wanted to give more of a reason for people to stay longer and build on highlighting Hilton Head as a destination," festival president Carolyn Vanagel said.According to organizers:

  • 17 percent of festival-goers last year were visiting the area for the first time; the same percentage stayed 10 days or more.

  • The number of people staying five days or more has increased 12 percent since 2009, and they each spent more than $1,800 on average.

  • More than half have annual household incomes of $100,000 or more; 16 percent have household incomes of more than $200,000.

  • More than 80 percent are empty-nesters and likely over the age of 50.

  • "With these statistics, motoring festival attendees provide a desirable customer for Hilton Head Island," Vanagel said. "They can travel year-round, have the ability to take vacations and are potential customers to become the next residents of Hilton Head."

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