County Council to boost promotion of history and culture to lure visitors

Beaufort County needs to focus on more than just its beaches when marketing to prospective visitors, Beaufort County Council members say.

Improvements to marketing and boosting tourism were among more than 85 long- and short-term priorities the County Council discussed for more than eight hours Friday during the finale of its two-day annual retreat in Okatie.

"We need to think outside the box on how we market ourselves," said Councilman Steve Baer of Hilton Head."We have the culinary side, historic sites ... a lot of big, famous movies have been filmed here."

Councilman Jerry Stewart of Bluffton said the county needed to stray from the marketing model used by so many coastal communities throughout the Southeast.

"We need to go beyond just heads in beds," Stewart said.

Instead of just beaches, cultural and historical heritage should be highlighted, council members said. Those assets set Beaufort County apart from other coastal communities competing for a shrinking tourist dollar, they said.

The council also discussed improving county emergency medical services, upgrading county roads and consolidating county fire districts as part of their agenda for the coming year.

Lyle Sumeck, a Florida consultant hired by the county to facilitate this week's retreat, reminded County Council everything they hope to accomplish this year would have consequences for county staff.

"You have a lot of choices in this county, and all of those choices have ramifications for the staff and require different types of service levels," Sumeck said.

County Council is expected to complete its policy agenda for 2010 and other long-term goals during another meeting with Sumeckin mid-March, according to county officials.

This week's retreat was to run through today, but the final day was postponed until next month to allow Chairman Weston Newton to attend.

Newton missed the retreat because of a death in the family, according to county officials.