Hilton Head committee approves chamber marketing plan

bheffernan@islandpacket.comApril 25, 2013 

David Tigges, left, a member of the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, speaks with Robert Stenhammer, center, and Mike Alsko, right, of the Town of Hilton Head Island's Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee after the meeting Thursday. Stenhammer and Alsko were appointed the committee's new chairman and vice chairman, respectively.

STAFF PHOTO

  • The Hilton Head Island Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee appointed Robert Stenhammer chairman, following the departure of Bret Martin. Mike Alsko will succeed Stenhammer as vice chairman. The committee seeks to fill two openings before its next meeting July 16.

A marketing budget for the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce was approved Thursday by the town's Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee.

The chamber, awarded $1.4 million in January by the town to promote the island in the 2013-14 fiscal year, told the committee how it plans to spend that money.

The plan was approved in a unanimous vote, with committee chairman Robert Stenhammer abstaining because he also is on the chamber board.

The committee's vote is only a recommendation; Town Council will have the final say when it reviews the chamber's plan May 21.

As the town's official marketing arm, the chamber automatically receives 30 percent of the town's share of accommodations tax revenue, about $1.15 million.

The tax, also known as a "bed tax," is a 2-percent levy on overnight lodging, with proceeds funding organizations that promote tourism. The chamber was also given a supplemental $250,000 tax grant from the town.

Committee members asked a few questions about how the chamber would spend its money in the coming year but offered no major criticism.

During the presentation, chamber Visitor & Convention Bureau vice president Susan Thomas spoke of "a solid year" in 2012 for the island's hospitality industry. Hilton Head enjoyed a 3-percent increase in the number of visitors and a 6.1-percent increase in the amount of revenue generated per room, she said.

"We expect 2013 to be even stronger for us," Thomas said, attributing some of the growth to more than $200 million being invested in hotel and resort renovations.

Thomas also outlined the chamber's expanding presence online, which is important for reaching tech-savvy visitors.

The chamber's website, www.hiltonheadisland.org, received 1.5 million visits in 2012, a 25-percent increase from the previous year. Almost 40 percent of the site visits last year were on mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, compared to only 28 percent in 2011.

"We're seeing quantum leaps with mobile," Thomas said.

The chamber plans to spend about $363,000 on digital marketing and $51,000 on social media next fiscal year.

During last week's RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing, the chamber hosted a social-media lounge, where it traded free sunglasses for "likes" on the chamber's Facebook page.

The chamber currently has 20,000 likes.

The chamber also recently collaborated with the town to produce a television commercial promoting Hilton Head's environmentally sensitive development. It featured audio recordings of late Sea Pines developer Charles Fraser and debuted during Heritage telecasts on CBS and The Golf Channel. It will be re-aired in select television markets in the Northeast and posted on the chamber's site and elsewhere.

"I think it's really going to pay dividends long after the tournament is past," chamber spokeswoman Charlie Clark said.

The chamber's website has received nearly 2,800 visits since the tournament, according to Clark.

Follow reporter Brian Heffernan at twitter.com/IPBG_Brian

Related content:

Island council ignores tax panel's recommendation, funds lecture series, Jan. 4, 2013 VIDEO: New TV ad uses Charles Fraser narration to promote Hilton Head during Heritage, April 15, 2013

Chamber, Heritage provide oasis for social media, April 17, 2013

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