Every resort destination has a life cycle. It starts with conceptualization and master planning of an area that will be transformed to provide an attractive lifestyle and create real estate demand for both visitors and residents. As plans progress, the development of public infrastructure such as roads and utilities are installed to support the planned development.
Next, the building of vacation accommodations and private residences occur. This step requires a precise mix of residential, hotel, villa and timeshare properties that will allow a resort economy to function on year-round occupancy.
Activities, retail, arts, culture and historical offerings are then cast to enhance the visitor experience and create amenities that improve the quality of life for residents. Over time, however, a resort destination starts losing its luster and the appeal of new experiences and new accommodations fades away. A resort area must embark on renovation and redevelopment to compete for regional and national market share in tourism and real estate.
In the case of Hilton Head Island, the original development vision that embraced the environment was created by Charles Fraser in 1957 when he and his brother Joseph started the Sea Pines Company. After several decades of new construction activity in Sea Pines and other communities, the majority of the Island's most coveted areas had been built out and the accommodations on Hilton Head began their own life cycle process.
Fast forward to 2012. The current situation is a majority of mature villas, rental homes and retail spaces that could use a big face-lift. The good news is there are several hotels that are investing in the future and creating huge renovation momentum for the Island. Major brands on the Island have announced that they are collectively investing more than $100 million dollars in renovations including The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa, Sonesta, Omni Resort, Marriot, and the Inn at Harbour Town.
This is terrific news for our visitors and for our local economy. Affluent visitors are attracted by affluent accommodations and affluent visitors will purchase and raise the demand for local real estate. Couple the hotel renovations with the re-development of The Mall at Shelter Cove and the proposed Coligny Project and suddenly Hilton Head finds itself rooted firmly in a season of exciting and much needed renewal.
But for the future of property values, the renovation momentum must not stop there. Each vacation rental property owner, regime board member and retail owner should be thinking about ways to improve their "curb appeal," and enhance their property interiors to join in the renovating of Hilton Head. These initiatives should be looked at as investments in personal assets and as an investment in the community and its future.
Renovation momentum is particularly important for owners of vacation rental properties, who have opened their homes to contribute positively to the visitor experience. Vacation rental owners should focus on improving kitchens, bathrooms, flooring, furniture and appliances to stay competitive in the rental market. Together these efforts will reaffirm Hilton Head Island as a world class resort destination and have a positive effect on Lowcountry property values.
This article is the fourth in a five-part series that addresses actions to stimulate Lowcountry real estate demand and positively affect property values. Robert Stenhammer has been a resort executive for more than 15 years. He is the president of Hilton Head Accommodations.