Beaufort News

Beaufort County scrambles to salvage tourism hit from flood misperception

With several inches of rain expected Oct. 3 during the Beaufort Shrimp Festival, organizers and city officials called the event off even though the weather didn't stop Friday's opening or Saturday morning's 5K road race.
With several inches of rain expected Oct. 3 during the Beaufort Shrimp Festival, organizers and city officials called the event off even though the weather didn't stop Friday's opening or Saturday morning's 5K road race. newsroom@islandpacket.com

The historic rain fell during one of Beaufort County's most popular weekends of the year to host visitors. And though the area was spared the tragic flooding experienced in other parts of the state, the wet weather and perception of the state as a disaster zone have caused a significant economic loss in some areas.

"We are talking about a $30 million (public relations) hit," Robb Wells, tourism director for the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, told Beaufort City Council on Tuesday about the state's woes.

Discoversouthcarolina.com, the state's tourism website, is sending a social media team to coastal areas -- including Beaufort County -- to spread the word that the communities are still open to visitors, Wells said. The chamber plans to buy advertising with money previously allocated for Christmas and next spring.

Radio spots will be placed in the markets known to draw visitors here, with promotions like giving away free overnight stays, Wells said.

On Hilton Head Island, hotel reservations were canceled in droves during the days of the worst weather, said Gail Wargo, director of sales and marketing at the Westin Hilton Head Resort and Spa. But after that, public messages from state and local business leaders that the area is open to visitors has resonated, Wargo said.

"The Lowcountry is open for business and doing just fine, fortunately," she said. "We really dodged a bullet."

The Beaufort chamber, the designated marketing organization for northern Beaufort County, is taking steps to restore the area's image ahead of some signature events.

The Historic Beaufort Foundation's Fall Festival of Houses and Gardens, for instance, is slated for the end of the month. Main Street Beaufort's Fall ArtWalk is Oct. 24 and its downtown trick-or-treating event scheduled for Oct. 29.

In addition to Beaufort's hotels and restaurants, Main Street Beaufort also felt the effect of the rainy weather at the beginning of the month.

The organization's Beaufort Shrimp Festival, its biggest money-maker, was canceled. Director LaNelle Fabian said Main Street had expected to make about $38,000. Coupled with Main Street funding being cut from the city's budget, the nonprofit representing downtown business has lost $90,000 in about four months, Fabian told City Council on Tuesday.

After dropping from two employees to one due to the budget cut, Fabian has established volunteer teams to address Main Street's issues.

One group will advocate for a parking garage downtown. Another will reach out to area businesses with ways to encourage growth, and a team will assess events to determine which ones are most efficient.

Now a team will look at possible money-making ventures to try and make up lost revenue.

"We're going to put our heads together," Fabian said. "We can't snap our fingers and make a shrimp festival happen over night."

Follow reporter Stephen Fastenau at twitter.com/IPBG_Stephen.

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