CHARLESTON, S.C. — South Carolina’s $14 billion tourism industry could see a 5 percent increase this year as the state and national economies slowly recover, the head of the state’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism said Wednesday.
“We expect it to be about 5 percent although the unknown is gas prices,” Duane Parrish told the AP after the Governor’s Conference on Travel and Tourism wrapped up in Greenville.
With predictions of $4-a-gallon gas in the state this spring, Parish said higher gas prices probably won’t stop people from taking vacations, although they may not travel as far.
“We have so many feeder cities like Atlanta and Charlotte and Raleigh that we don’t feel the bump as much as some tourism destinations,” he said.
If gas spikes even higher than $4, he said the state can move advertising money to target state residents as well as visitors who live near South Carolina.
A number of tourism indicators for 2011 were up, including a more than 5 percent increase in revenue per available hotel room. Golf admissions taxes were up almost 6 percent.
“That was the biggest surprise because nationally golf is flat or down a bit,” Parrish said. He attributed the increase to several things.
“We found a title sponsor for the Heritage golf tournament and we’re hosting the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island this August. And we’ve had a winter with nice weather. All that helps golf,” he said.
Last June, the Heritage Classic golf tournament announced that RBC will serve as its new title sponsor, ensuring the PGA tour will continue to make an annual stop on Hilton Head Island through 2016.
During the conference, the approximately 400 industry representatives rated PRT’s performance. One result: People in the industry say they want the agency to help more with tourism economic development.
In recent years, such development was depressed by the Great Recession.
“If interest rates stay low and hopefully commercial lending begins to free up, I think the industry is ready to have more economic development and some new products both on the lodging and the attraction side,” Parrish said.