Island panel recommends approval of town, USCB agreement on hospitality, event training

The Town of Hilton Head Island might soon get help attracting tourists from the University of South Carolina Beaufort, with a program to train professionals and students in hospitality and event management.

Town Council's Intergovernmental Relations Committee recommended approval of an agreement with the university to create a new center on the island run by USCB's College of Hospitality Management.

The town would pay its annual share to run the center -- about $103,000 -- with the festival-and-event fund that is part of its 1-percent accommodations tax on overnight lodging. The money had gone to the island's hospitality association to assist with festivals and training, but the association no longer meets criteria for funding, primarily because it lacks a full-time director, town manager Steve Riley said. Former executive director Ann-Marie Adams was laid off in October.

"Rather than try to massage the town code to meet new circumstances, (town) staff approached the university about their ability to provide these services," Riley said.

The university would contribute $32,500 each year to the effort, Riley said.

It's not clear when the full council will consider the proposal.

The center would focus on special-events production, volunteerism and training hospitality workers.

"The special-events component will assist in the establishment of new festivals, attracting new tourists," said Charles Calvert, chairman of USCB's Department of Hospitality Management.

The center also would provide better hands-on training and internships for students, re-establish a USCB presence on the island and grow popular university programs, he said.

Councilwoman Kim Likins said the agreement would particularly help nonprofit organizations that need help promoting and organizing events.

Calvert said a certification course could have an economic impact of as much as $5 million over five years through increased lodging, food, beverage, retail and event ticket sales.

"Travel and tourism is one of the largest industries in the world and is the largest industry on Hilton Head," Calvert said. "However, Hilton Head Island and its tourism-related businesses are competing with high-quality destinations throughout the world.

"This intense global competition for tourism dollars can be counteracted by maintaining and enhancing the superior quality of service provided ... as well as expanding and supporting local events."

Discussions to improve training opportunities for the island's hospitality industry have occurred for months, said Riley.

"Initially, the hospitality association was onboard with this approach, and USCB was going to provide staffing services to the association under a separate agreement," Riley said. "The hospitality association is currently exploring other options for (its) future."

Hospitality association president Sean Barth said the group is trying to determine how best to serve its membership and wishes USCB the best in its endeavors.

Questions remain, however, as to whether town accommodations-tax revenue can be used for the program. If it cannot, Riley said, the town could shift money from general revenues to pay for its part of the agreement.