SC tourism officials to promote 'barbecue trail'



LITTLE MOUNTAIN, S.C. — Dozens of family-owned barbecue restaurants are scattered across South Carolina, many open only a few days a week and known primarily to locals and barbecue aficionados.

State tourism officials want to help them drum up more business, spending $1.2 million to promote the state’s “barbecue trail” in an effort to help hundreds of thousands of travelers and tourists find places on their way to the state’s beaches or college football games.

To pay for that marketing blitz, lawmakers have given the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism more than $20 million in new money over the past two years, most of that money going to pay for advertising in Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head Island, Columbia, Charleston and Greenville.

Beginning this fall, the department will embark on a $3.5 million advertising campaign designed to showcase the state’s more rural areas, including the $1.2 million campaign scheduled to begin later this month highlighting the state’s barbecue culture.

“When you look at the all the small mom-and-pop barbecue places … each one has its own character, its own following, its own little special item – like their recipe for banana pudding,” said Marion Edmonds, a spokesman for the tourism department.

The first phase of the new advertising campaign – done by BFG, the Hilton Head Island-based firm that has the state’s tourism advertising contract – will start at the end of August, timed to coincide with the start of college football season. The campaign will target areas within 350 miles of South Carolina.

In addition to traditional ads on television and newspapers, the department is planning to expand its Web site to add a barbecue trail, guiding people through the state’s varied barbecue cultures: the vinegar-based sauce in the Lowcountry, the mustard-based sauce in the Midlands and the ketchup-based sauce of the Upstate.

“You’ve got to look for niches when you are competing against Georgia and North Carolina,” said state Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, the chairman of the House budget subcommittee that oversees the tourism agency’s budget.

In the 2013-14 budget year, which started July 1, lawmakers approved a
$9 million increase for the tourism agency, for the second consecutive year one of the largest increases given any state agency.

“We’ve been looking at a couple of good years here, and we’re turning around and plowing that back into the promoting and marketing of the state as a tourist destination,” Edmonds said.

Of that money, $4 million went to the state’s “destination specific tourism marketing program,” where the state matches local tourism dollars to pay for advertising and marketing costs.

In Columbia, for instance, 16 hotels add a $1 per-room, per-night charge to their customers’ bills that goes toward matching some of the state money. Columbia plans to use the money for billboard ads marketing Columbia attractions including the Saluda River and the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, according to Ric Luber, the president and chief executive of the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports and Tourism.

In Myrtle Beach, officials plan to use the money for advertising overseas in Europe and Canada, and in cities that have new air service to Myrtle Beach, including Philadelphia, Chicago and Dallas, said Brad Dean of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

Dean added he is happy about the $1.2 million statewide barbecue marketing campaign, saying it will benefit all of South Carolina.