If we can survive long months of hurricane monitoring, a more fierce winter than we are accustomed to, and the steady drip of falling pollen, surely we can survive the height of what’s about to hit us now – tourist season.
Though it’s still just in its infancy this year, all the signs are already there.
There are now small groups of people, mostly on Bay Street and surrounding areas, walking slowly and gawking at the waterfront scenes we take in every day of the year.
They look like us and share a lot of the same human traits, but there’s something a little different about their gait and purpose.
Right now it’s mostly retirees with time on their hands and a tolerable climate in their minds, but soon school will be out and kids and teens will follow behind their parents on the same beaten paths.
Though most tourists naturally congregate downtown – drawn as are we to the waterfront and historic architecture – some will also venture out to Fripp and Hunting Islands, stopping in at St. Helena along the way. Or they’ll make their way into downtown Port Royal and stop at all boat landings in between.
Yes, we’ve hosted recent celebrities like “Darryl” from “The Walking Dead” all the way back to Clark Gable in 1939, but it’s the common person we’re after, and we have to be ready for them.
There are times when you might find yourself in the local toy store being interrogated by a tourist who wants to know the best place to eat barbecue. You can look at the store owner, himself a local, and the two of you can exchange dumbfounded looks because you aren’t sure your answers will match. You can then go into a five-minute discourse on the ambiance and menu of the competing restaurants, but any answer is better than none.
Besides having an answer for recommendations, we need to be prepared to be patient in other endeavors as well.
Remember these folks are just as confused by the traffic patterns on Boundary as are we. They drive by our political signs and wonder about the people behind the names. They walk under our Spanish Moss without ever thinking once about how many bugs are actually up in there. Some of them are not even sure why the sandbars go into hiding every few hours.
So when you overhear them talking at the table next to you or in line at the store, tell them to have a safe trip back to Illinois. If you see them attempting to feed an alligator, remind them it’s hard to drive back to New York with one less foot.
Help them tie up to the day dock and direct them to the showers. Walk around them quietly to show them you don’t mind them stopping to grab a picture of the anchor. Show them there’s no preferential treatment for locals - you also have to park just as far away from your downtown destination.
When they’re in the carriage, refrain from startling them by honking – it’s probably not fair to the horses.
Like it or not, tourism remains our number one industry here. According to the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, conservative estimates place over 500,000 tourists here each year. Well over half of those are confirmed overnight hotel visitors. That pumps in over 100 million a year into the economy with right around 6 million in tax revenues.
The attractions are already here, all we need to do is continue to be nice. We need them to come back next year.