Solid numbers make better case for festival

info@islandpacket.comFebruary 22, 2013 

Out-of-town visitors filled restaurants, raised hotel occupancy rates and helped last week's Beaufort International Film Festival parlay a good time into good news.

The festival was attended by a record 7,600 people, according to organizers.

And initial results of a survey conducted by the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce and the University of South Carolina Beaufort indicate many who attended from outside the region came specifically for the event.

Much as films shot in and around Beaufort once showcased the area's beauty to hordes of potential travelers, the film festival introduces visitors to all that the city and surrounding environs have to offer. In fact, many survey respondents said they went to the beach, art galleries and antique shops, and a few said they kayaked and played tennis.

And they spent money in restaurants and retail shops and on lodging.

"So does the film festival have a place in Beaufort?" chamber tourism-division director Robb Wells asked rhetorically.

"You're dadgum right."

About 200 people took the survey, and 71 percent said they wouldn't have been in Beaufort were it not for the festival. Further, a bump in hotel occupancy suggests many came from beyond a 50-mile radius. That's an important line of demarcation because pursuit of such visitors is a chief aim of accommodations tax grants for which the festival and other events compete.

Indeed, not only are the numbers encouraging, so, too, is the fact that there are any numbers at all.

The city of Beaufort wants to make more stringent its process for determining who gets accommodations tax money, putting new emphasis on measurable results and cooperation among organizations vying for funding. That's smart.

As the city's designated marketing organization, the chamber automatically gets 30 percent of the accommodations tax money returned to the city, but that designation should come with high degree of responsibility, too. The chamber has an important role to play in measuring the results of events and attractions that come to town.

Wells said that was exactly why the chamber would seek help from the University of South Carolina Beaufort to survey people attending other big events in northern Beaufort County, commissioning "as many as we can afford."

Hard data, not mere intuition, provides the best measure of return on the city's accommodations-tax investment. It also gives better insight into what really drives one of the county's most important industries.

It's good that the chamber is measuring and good that the Beaufort International Film Festival gave the organization so much to measure.

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