Does chamber do enough to promote Bluffton?

Bluffton is treated like a "red-headed stepchild" by the organization that handles the town's tourism marketing, according to a member of a committee that helps decide how money for promoting tourism should be spent.

The Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce's Visitor & Convention Bureau puts far more effort into marketing the island, said Tim Holsinger, a member of Bluffton's accommodations tax advisory panel.

He cited the chamber's official vacation planner, which he said devotes only two pages to Bluffton attractions.

Holsinger said Bluffton should demand more from the bureau, which is in line to get $45,000 next year from the town's accommodation tax collections. The allocation, recommended by tax advisory committee, will be considered by Town Council at its June 14 meeting.

Another member of the committee, Ted Huffman of Bluffton BBQ, said it's to be expected that the bureau promotes Hilton Head more than Bluffton. He added that the spillover of island tourism benefits Bluffton.

Mayor Lisa Sulka also stuck up for the bureau, saying it has better access to potential visitors than any other marketing organization.

"They're a great partner for us," Sulka said. "They listen to us when we tell them Bluffton's focus is so different from Hilton Head in terms of who they need to attract."

Holsinger said Bluffton's contribution to the bureau -- though less than other local governments give -- still is significant and should be treated as such.

Holsinger's comments echoed those of Councilman Mike Raymond, who has said Bluffton "plays second fiddle" and should be marketed by the chamber as a destination in its own right.

Raymond said the town's popular festivals have done more than the bureau's marketing efforts to increase tourism in Bluffton.

According to the Visitor & Convention Bureau's 2010 marketing results, its work for Bluffton generated 7.2 million "online impressions" and 4.9 million print viewers, with full-page ads in publications such as Preservation and Smithsonian magazines.

There also have been more than 76,000 page views on VisitBluffton.org, and the bureau has sold group tours to Bluffton at travel trade shows. Three such tours have been booked for 2011.

Attempts Tuesday to contact Susan Thomas, the bureau's vice president, were unsuccessful.