Nothing revs the local tourism engine during the off-season quite like the Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival & Concours d'Elegance.What began as a two-day event 11 years ago has grown into a 10-day fall extravaganza that continues to draw bigger crowds and reach more visitors from farther away who stay longer and spend more than the typical Hilton Head tourist.
The result is an economic boon of more than $5 million for island hotels, restaurants and shops, according to festival organizers.This year's festival begins Friday and runs through Nov. 4, with events scheduled in Savannah and on Hilton Head.
Attendance has grown since 2008 by nearly 46 percent, to 14,600. More than 48 percent of those visitors come from outside a 50-mile radius, representing 47 states and more than 10 countries, according to statistics compiled by professor John Salazar and his students at the University of South Carolina Beaufort.
"During these difficult economic times, many antique automobile events have taken extreme hits economically; however, (the Hilton Head) event continues to grow and prosper," motoring festival sponsor and exhibitor David Landow of Maryland said.
Automotive enthusiasts, collectors, judges and sponsors attribute the festival's success in part to the area's natural beauty and its amenities, such as art, food and live entertainment.
In 2010, the festival began partnering with several restaurants to showcase their culinary talents on-site to exhibitors. The festival will again partner with the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina for an abridged satirical performance of the complete history of America, and it will host a dinner featuring Bob Lutz, former vice chairman of General Motors.
New this year is a tribute concert to Johnny Mercer and the "CARscapes" art exhibit at the Hilton Head Art League's Walter Greer Gallery.
"We wanted to give more of a reason for people to stay longer and build on highlighting Hilton Head as a destination," festival president Carolyn Vanagel said.According to organizers:
"With these statistics, motoring festival attendees provide a desirable customer for Hilton Head Island," Vanagel said. "They can travel year-round, have the ability to take vacations and are potential customers to become the next residents of Hilton Head."