Since 1984 the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce has been the "Designated Marketing Organization" for northern Beaufort County. As such, the chamber receives funding for tourism marketing and promotions from the county, the City of Beaufort, the Town of Port Royal and the state. Those dollars are used specifically for attracting visitors to the area.
The benefits of tourism are undeniable. More than $1 billion in travel-related annual spending is injected into our local economy, which translates into lower property taxes for all residents of the county. In fact, a 2009 study found that tourism lowers our property taxes by $700 per household annually.
Tourism not only brings revenue to our county, but it also provides the foundation for our enviable quality of life, creates jobs, improves medical and educational resources, and even convinces a fair share of visitors to become full-time residents, relocate their business to the area or invest in second homes. Beaufort County property tax millage rates are among the lowest in the state, ranked second out of 46 counties. These low rates are a direct result of the economic impact of tourism.
Tourism also has a significant indirect impact on the community. Tourism industry employees use their wages to pay for housing, food, clothing, health care, entertainment and lifestyle products and services, which means those original tourism dollars are doing double duty.
Tourism has long been a focus of the chamber. Recently, tourism has been a hot topic here at the chamber. Last month, the chamber board of directors approved the reorganization and creation of the Tourism, Travel and Convention Division, formerly known as the Visitor & Convention Bureau. The same staff that operated the Visitor & Convention Bureau continues to be employed by and represent the chamber through our tourism marketing efforts.
This new division is responsible for tourism promotions, assisting the hospitality industry in northern Beaufort County and operating the Visitors Center on Craven Street in the historic Arsenal in downtown Beaufort. Currently, the chamber is running a successful campaign tied to the City of Beaufort's tricentennial celebration. The campaign promotes 300 free room giveaways, $300 vacation packages and more.
The chamber will boost its ability to serve area businesses while also leading tourism and visitor marketing. The chamber, under this restructured framework, will be able to provide much more accurate reporting and accountability. Our mission is to provide exceptional service to our business members and to create additional economic strength through our tourism marketing efforts. The chamber expects great things as we continue to serve our members and our greater community.
Blakely T. Williams is president of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce.