USCB students offer new ideas for tourism

Fresh and simple ideas were abundant in University of South Carolina Beaufort student marketing plans presented to the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.

The presentations were part of the students' final project for a hospitality marketing course taught by professor John Salazar, and they aimed to create strategies to attract travelers in the mid-20s to mid-40s.

The students concluded that younger tourists are tethered to their smartphones, will travel with friends and want new experiences, including nightlife.

Suggestions to attract them included a few new twists on some local staples -- a music festival with a major-label headliner, for example. One plan included a budget of $1 million. However, most were premised on practical ideas and entailed more modest expense -- for example, QR codes placed along bicycle paths that direct cyclists to nearby stores, restaurants and attractions.

And though geared toward Hilton Head Island, the project is applicable elsewhere in Beaufort County: QR codes could easily take tourists on a scavenger hunt through historic Beaufort or old town Bluffton.

The students worked in small groups, each making its own presentation. One group created several packages -- a girlfriends getaway, a night golf contest, eco-tourism and volunteering, and a trip for young couples expecting a child. As one would expect of groups of young people, almost every one integrated technology and social media. For example, all included advertisements on Facebook, along with more traditional outlets, such as magazines and television, as part of their marketing strategy.

Susan Thomas, chamber vice president, said she liked many of the ideas and plans to bring them to the chamber's marketing council.

The council would do well to listen because the students offer the perspective of young, technology-savvy people -- precisely the sort of folks likely to drive the local tourism industry for years to come.

Participants said they learned a lot from their projects, but they have a lot to teach, as well.