How traffic blows up on Hilton Head's winter weekends
If this past week is any indication, Hilton Head Island is becoming more popular during a month that’s normally slower for tourism.
The annual Hilton Head Island Seafood Festival not only increased its attendance by 77 percent compared to last year’s event but also pulled more people to the island than on any other day in February in the past five years, festival officials said.
“We have seen a steady growth each year,” said Andrew Carmines, chairman of the David M. Carmines Memorial Foundation, which hosted the event. “We really jumped considerably this year.”
Ticket sales for the festival’s main event Saturday increased from 3,028 last year to 5,378 this year, said Carmines, who also is president of Hudson’s Seafood Corp. The festival sold 2,985 tickets in 2015.
Carmines said this year’s numbers don’t include an additional 3,000 tickets sold for other events held throughout the week of the festival. Those additional events were widely expanded this year, making it hard to compare numbers with previous years, he said.
“We have created a buzz over the last few years,” Carmines said. “I talked to several couples and families that planned their trip because of the Seafood Festival, and that is exactly what we are trying to accomplish.”
The S.C. Department of Transportation vehicle counter tracked 32,706 vehicles on the island Friday night before the main event Saturday — about 500 more cars than the next highest traffic day.
Warren Woodard, director of sales and marketing for Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort, said the hotel was booked for the weekend.
“We were a sponsor for the event and housed celebrity chefs for the week, but the festival itself also was a great draw,” he said.
It is not typical for the hotel to be completely booked in February, Woodard said.
“We get close on holiday weekends, such as Presidents Day, but not fully,” he said.
Courtney Kenneweg, managing partner at The Crazy Crab, said the event provided a large financial boost during a typically slower month for his business and others.
“I think the Seafood Festival has gotten to a point where you have a lot of tourists coming in for it now,” he said. “In the past, it was just locals.”
The festival originally was held in April, but in recent years moved to March, Carmines said. He said this is the first time it has been held in February.
March and April were becoming problematic because of other events, including the Heritage golf tournament, Charleston Wine and Food Festival and Easter, Carmines said.
“I was concerned about it being held earlier in the year,” he said. “February typically isn’t a good month for tourism.”
Yet, if it remains successful in February, it could provide a boost to the island, Carmines said.
“If we can make a go of it, it will be great for the island in driving business in a time of need,” he said.
This year’s festival crowds did make for long lines, Carmines acknowledged. He said event holders knew the festival had outgrown its location at Shelter Cove and had planned to move it to Honey Horn this year but were unable to because that property is being used as a hurricane debris processing site.