Beaufort News

Beaufort City Council continues tourism talks

Visitors disembark from their tour buses on Tuesday near the Downtown Marina.
Visitors disembark from their tour buses on Tuesday near the Downtown Marina. Jonathan Dyer/The Beaufort Gazette

Beaufort City Council revisited an ongoing discussion Tuesday about what the city's tourism industry will look like in the future and hope to have a clearer vision by later this summer.

Council heard from representatives of the city's Tourism Management Advisory Committee and the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce's Visitors and Convention Bureau during a Tuesday workshop.

"I want to know what we're going to look like in 10 years and how we help you get there," Mayor Billy Keyserling said.

In October, council members enlisted help from the VCB to help create the vision.

The organization plans to have a report by July with input from various community groups and members, VCB Executive Director Bob Moquin said.

"We need to come to grips with who we are as a community and get some buy-in to make sure everyone feels the same about ... who we are as a destination and a product," Moquin said.

Meanwhile, the Tourism Management Advisory Committee has been working through possible changes to a city ordinance that governs tourist operators, including the horse-drawn carriage operators that have been a source of conflict for years.

The city currently allows two carriage companies to operate and puts the spots up for bid every five years. The current contracts expire later this year.

The tour companies pay about $26,000 each per year, plus a business license fee, for one of the slots. The city is required to provide an adequate staging area for both companies.

Council reconstituted the tourism committee last year to consider possible revisions to the ordinance while also taking a broader look at the tourism industry and possible issues that might arise.

TMAC chairwoman Heather Winch said the group has spent a majority of its time dealing with enforcement of existing rules, leaving little time for anything else.

"If you want to see something by August so this thing can go out to bid in October ... we can't be dealing with those issues between now and then," Winch said.

One of the questions council and TMAC are still trying to answer is how many tours the city's historic district --specifically a 2-mile route most often traveled -- can handle on a daily and weekly basis.

As written, the city's ordinance allows for about 420 tours a week split among carriage, bus and walking companies, Winch said. However many of those tour slots go unfilled, she said.

Accommodating tourists while also maintaining a comfortable community for residents remains a key goal, Keyserling said.