Golf, tennis, biking, shopping — what the tourists want.
Oh, and sustainability — they want that, too.
The Hilton Head Island Green Survey, conducted by John Salazar and his colleagues at USC Beaufort’s Lowcountry and Resort Islands Tourism Institute in 2009, found the overwhelming majority — from 82 to 96 percent — of those surveyed thought hotels and resorts should:
▪ Recycle and use biodegradable and recycled products.
▪ Offer linen reuse programs.
▪ Implement water conservation programs and use renewable energy.
Folks were less enthused about heating and cooling at energy-savings levels — just 70 percent of the approximately 550 respondents agreed with that. Still, as Salazar said Wednesday, the results of the survey, dated as they are, show evidence that tourists are increasingly interested in sustainability — and staying at sustainably-minded locales.
“There’s a growing trend toward environmentally-conscious practices by resorts,” Salazar said.
Six Senses Resorts Hotels Spas — a company that touts itself as “the hospitality industry’s pioneer of sustainable practices” — announced this week its plans for a resort in Beaufort County. Those plans might be dependent upon the town of Hilton Head Island’s ability to annex Bay Point Island, a process it’s beginning to initiate.
And while Six Senses might offer a new type of resort in the area, it’s not the first sustainability-focused brand to set its sights on the Lowcountry.
The two tiers of tourism
Golf, tennis and shopping — that’s the first tier, the one Denis Lepine says is well established on Hilton Head.
But Lepine, a partner with Seed Regenerative Development, a joint U.S.-Canadian company “founded with the goal of utilizing development as a tool to regenerate local communities and ecosystems,” thinks there’s an untapped resource on the island and elsewhere in the county.
That would be “the essence of place” — the second tier — which has led him to scout locations across the county for the past four years.
“Everyone wants to talk about the five-star and luxury (resorts), but that’s not where the market’s going,” Lepine said. “It’s going experiential.”
Celebrating an area’s culture is as much a part of the company’s model as preserving the environment. Lepine wants tourists to break out of the resort “bubble” — experience the Gullah and Geechee culture, for example, or explore a natural beach as opposed to a manicured shoreline. Nature in the raw.
And the company’s model calls for majority ownership by the local community, he said, meaning the majority of profit stays in the area.
Seed initially envisioned an “eco resort,” but finding a property was challenging. The company is still open to the idea, Lepine said, but it’s now considering “an urban eco hotel” in the area.
Bluffton is a possibility, and the company continues to consider other locations, which he declined to specify, in the county.
Interest in the annex
“A little bit more of a distinctive eco product adds to the overall product inventory,” Salazar said, explaining the benefit of a sustainability-branded company like Six Senses.
Visitors who stay in Six Senses-style resorts tend to be more environmentally conscious, have more education and more money, he said.
There’s been more buzz around this high-end resort, he said, because of the annexation issue.
Bay Point wouldn’t be the first island to be considered for annexation for development.
One local example is Rose Island, annexed by the town of Port Royal in 2000. The island was envisioned as a fish camp of sorts consisting of 20 homes. But, aside from one structure, there has been no development, Linda Bridges of the town’s planning department said Wednesday.
The city of Naples, Fla., debated for two years whether to annex Keewaydin Island and, in March 2009, decided not to, the Naples Daily News reported. “The proposal, along with an unrelated plan by developer Jack Antaramian to build a private beach shelter on the island, spurred worries about overrunning the sensitive barrier island within the boundaries of the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve,” the newspaper said.
Island annexation even happens in Idaho — yes, Idaho, and yes, it’s a man-made island. A developer is currently trying to expand his marina and restaurant operations on Blackwell Island, at the junction of Lake Coeur d’Alene and the Spokane River, according to the Spokesman-Review.