The cannon shot over Calibogue Sound always makes our golfing and business hearts beat a little faster.
It signals the start of the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing, the annual PGA Tour event on Hilton Head Island and the official start of our busy tourism season. The tournament's estimated $82 million impact is a major shot in the arm to the local and regional economy, for which we are truly grateful.
The Heritage has long provided a relaxed, fun atmosphere to cultivate new business ties and cement old ones. The Lowcountry is at its finest in the spring. With the title sponsors secure and familiar, we can enjoy the Heritage more than ever.
The economic news in general is improving. South Carolina's tourism industry, the state's largest, is showing promising gains, according to a recent workforce report. By the end of February, it had added more jobs than any other industry in the state, bringing the total number of hospitality and leisure workers to 212,200, a 5.36 percent increase.
John Salazar, a professor of hospitality management at the University of South Carolina Beaufort and director of the Lowcountry and Resort Island Tourism Institute, points to improving hotel occupancy rates as a strong sign more people are coming to visit. Hotel occupancy in 2012 increased by 4.1 percent in Beaufort, Port Royal and St. Helena Island, 9.5 percent in Bluffton and 3.9 percent on Hilton Head Island over 2011, according data from Smith Travel Research.
Charlie Clark, spokesman for the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, said, "It's no surprise that the health of the tourism industry means jobs for South Carolina and the Lowcountry. It's our number one economic driver. When you have more occupancy, you have more revenue. When you have more revenue, the economic health of this industry (creates) jobs and small-business success."
The Heritage's reach extends far beyond Sea Pines' gates and far beyond golf. It offers a nationally televised window to what we do here day in and day out -- provide a beautiful, relaxing venue for those who come to visit and for those who live here.
And the tournament's charitable giving has provided critical financial support to local and regional nonprofit groups. This past week, 15 local high school students were named Heritage Classic Foundation scholars, receiving scholarships totaling $278,000. Since the scholarship program began in 1993, the foundation has given $3,279,600 to 252 students, including this year's recipients.
It's just one more reason to smile when we hear that cannon and know the Heritage is off and running again.