Thank you, visitors, we owe you

We have tourism to thank for much of our Lowcountry livelihood

Special to the Packet and the GazetteAugust 11, 2013 

As the height of the Lowcountry tourism season begins to wind down, the traffic will dissipate and the restaurants, grocery stores, beaches and bike paths will be less crowded.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to live in the Lowcountry and those who work in real estate and tourism-related services will take a breath and get ready for the fall and winter seasons.

According to the Hilton Head Island/Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, more than 2.4 million visitors came to Hilton Head Island in 2012, and that number is projected to increase this year.

Based on the Chamber's latest visitor profile study, 42 percent of annual overnight visitors come between June and August and nearly 60 percent of those guests have been here before. Confirming the connection between tourism and real estate, the most recent Hilton Head second-homeowner study found that property purchasers visited here an average of 8 times before buying real estate.

Because of our visitors, Hilton Head supports more than 250 restaurants, 350 tennis courts, 24 championship golf courses and more than 200 retail offerings. Our tourism-oriented economy allows the island to host amazing destination events such as the RBC Heritage presented by Boeing and the Hilton Head Island Concourse de'Elegance & Motoring Festival.

The 37,000 year-round residents enjoy many world class arts and cultural offerings that are partly funded by taxes that our visitors pay on overnight accommodations. Public school funding, county operations, municipal infrastructure improvements and ultimately property values are directly connected to the real estate demand tourism creates from visitors desiring to own a piece of this paradise.

Imagine, if you will, life without tourism for Hilton Head's year-round residents. Based on my math using the ratio of amenities to visitors, there would be only four restaurants on the island open for business without tourism. There would six tennis courts, seven holes of golf and three retail shops. There would be limited resources for beach renourishment, public improvements and support for our arts and cultural organizations.

It's obvious tourism means absolutely everything to our quality of life.

I believe our community leaders and residents understand how much our visitors mean to our economy, but we can always improve and it begins with ourselves.

The spirit of service and Southern hospitality should permeate our culture. There are no insignificant roles when serving our guests. Each and every one of us has the ability to make or break a visitor's experience.

The next time you're frustrated with traffic or encounter a visitor who needs directions or a great local recommendation, understand that you are in a hospitality moment of truth and that you are representing our destination and quality of life.

In just a few short weeks, most of our annual visitors will have returned home and hopefully are dreaming about coming back to the Lowcountry. We owe it to our guests and to each other to give them the best experience possible.

Robert Stenhammer has been a resort executive for more than 15 years and is the president of Hilton Head Accommodations. Contact him at rstenhammer@hiltonheadusa.com or 843-247-2404.

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