Politics & Government

Is Hilton Head becoming ‘a discount island?’ Leaders discuss problems with ‘day-trippers’

Is this the busiest spring break ever? Here’s what folks are saying on Hilton Head

Hilton Head has been busy this Easter and spring break. We asked visitors and locals on Thursday to tell us what they've been experiencing. Here's what they said.
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Hilton Head has been busy this Easter and spring break. We asked visitors and locals on Thursday to tell us what they've been experiencing. Here's what they said.

Hilton Head’s new mayor and Town Council members met at the new University of South Carolina Beaufort hospitality campus this week for a two-day council workshop where they addressed problems facing the island in the next year.

An “issue” that came up time and time again?


Day-trippers are the beach-going tourists on Hilton Head who don’t stay overnight. Several council members said one-day tourists appear to be causing problems for beach parking, transportation and the island’s economy.

“All the beaches that we own throughout the island ... when you go there, none of the cars have S.C. tags on them,” Mayor John McCann said of out-of-state cars filling Hilton Head’s beach parking lots.

The disdain was also directed toward tourists who contribute to what council member David Ames called a “bottleneck” of traffic at Sea Pines Circle and parking limitations in the Coligny area on Hilton Head’s south end.

Council members once again floated the idea of charging for Coligny beach parking in hopes of decreasing the number of cars on the island and increasing revenue for the town.

“As the (Lowcountry) Celebration Park comes out of the ground, the issue of parking and what to do about it will come up,” council member Tom Lennox said of the park, which will be constructed in the next two years in what was an overflow parking lot near Coligny Beach.

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The council did not make a decision on whether the town will start charging for Coligny Beach parking at the workshop.

However, Lennox also said Hilton Head “seems like it’s becoming more of a discount island and less of a destination” when the council discussed the island’s elusive brand.

Council member Bill Harkins said he was concerned that the 3,000-home development Latitude Margaritaville in Hardeeville will bring more day-trippers to Hilton Head.

The community markets access to Hilton Head’s beaches as part of the perks of living there, despite its location roughly 35 minutes from Hilton Head’s shores.

“Having more day-trippers is going to enhance the quality of life on the island?” Harkins asked. “I don’t think so.”

Economic development and sustainability were key themes of the workshop, where the new council spoke several times about how to keep up with an island that they said is “aging.”

In 2017, the average age of a Hilton Head resident was 50.9 years old, according to 2010 census data.

The new Town Council also discussed several goals for the upcoming year, including:

  • Workforce development, housing and transportation: McCann said the shortage of labor extends beyond the hospitality and service industry. “You can have trouble getting a plumber or electrician” on the island, he said.

  • Town staff capacity: Town Manager Steve Riley said his abilities are “strained” because he has overbooked staff tackling several projects.

  • Gullah Geechee cultural preservation: Town staff announced that 49 people applied for the new historical neighborhood preservation administrator position, which will help advocate for Gullah communities on the island.

  • Parks and Recreation master plan: McCann said the town should develop an evaluation of all the plots the town owns.

  • Health care: McCann said council member Harkins will be forming a “health care think tank” town committee early next year to address health care demands on the island.

  • The U.S. 278 Gateway Corridor project: The council discussed incorporating the Jenkins Island improvement project into the SCDOT environmental study process to improve traffic flow on the Hilton Head bridge.