Originally created 11/09/99

NAACP's boycott hits South Carolina



AIKEN -- South Carolina is already feeling economic pressure to force a Confederate flag off its capitol dome, but tourism officials are reluctant to say it in numbers.

At least 79 events that would have pumped money into the state's economy have been canceled or moved to other states since July, when the NAACP first began urging people to stay away from South Carolina until the flag comes down.

Figures were not available Monday for the annual conference of the South Carolina Action Council for Cross Cultural Mental Health and Human Services, which has decided to meet in Augusta next year.

But it draws hundreds of state employees, whose expenditures for food, lodging and entertainment could be significant.

And state tourism officials are concerned that it's just one of dozens of cancellations.

The count is elusive. As a central clearing house for boycott developments, the South Carolina Hospitality Association has been trying to keep track of it through contacts with hotels, where conventions and seminars usually are held; convention centers; and others who market South Carolina attractions, including the state-run Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

The association isn't sure it knows the full extent of cooperation the National Association for Advancement of Colored People has received either. Its count covers only events that already were scheduled or in negotiation stages with lodging contacts, said Tom Sponseller, president of the organization.

It doesn't include events for which planners refuse at the outset to consider the Palmetto State.

All he'll say, at members' request, is that it doesn't look good.

"It will become harder to put numbers into the economic impact as time goes on anyway. All we can say is that this is affecting every part of the state. The hotel-motel business is very competitive, and they're all trying to hold onto their customer lists," Mr. Sponseller said. "They have asked that we not release numbers or names of the groups that are canceling out, and we're not."

Some of those are known anyway, among them the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Southern Division of Elks, Association of Democratic Chairs and National Baptist Deacons Conference, all of which were to have met in Charleston. Cancellations in Charleston so far amount to 1,240 visitors and an estimated economic loss of $1.33 million, the Convention and Visitors Bureau says.

Myrtle Beach has lost the Greyhound Corp., National Council of Teachers of English and two North Carolina lawyers' groups, among others that would have brought 1,505 visitors to the Grand Strand -- a loss of at least $500,000, the local Chamber of Commerce says.

South Carolina's Midlands, where the capitol building is located, has lost large religious conventions, the United Negro College Fund and the National Alliance of Postal and Federal Employees, among others. The Columbia Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates an economic impact of $2.3 million so far.

State tourism agency spokesman Lou Fontana said there's no question that the boycott has a huge potential to hurt the state, which usually receives $14.1 billion a year from tourism and convention traffic.

While all the cancellations do no represent black visitors, there's no question that losing black tourist trade alone would hurt. In 1997, the last year for which numbers are available, about 2.1 million black tourists came to South Carolina, which has started marketing destinations of special historical significance to them.

They spent an estimated $280 million in South Carolina that year.

It's not known how much of the loss could be offset by heritage groups and others who defend the presence of the Confederate naval jack on the State House dome. Thousands from several states are expected to attend a huge rally in January, featuring Confederate re-enactors reading the names of people who died in the War Between the States.

The flag on the dome is an elongated version of the square battle flag that most people identify as "the Confederate flag," although it never flew over the Confederacy as a national flag.

Boycott losses

An NAACP economic boycott of South Carolina has hit every part of the state, which usually derives $14.1 billion a year from tourism. Here are some details:

Charleston: At least five events canceled with losses of 1,249 visitors and a negative impact of $133 million.

Myrtle Beach: At least 12 events canceled with losses of 1,505 visitors and a negative impact of $500,000.

Columbia: At least 22 events canceled with losses of 16,000 visitors and a negative impact of $2.3 million.

Sources: Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau, Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, Columbia Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Center, South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

Reach Margaret N. O'Shea at (803) 279-6895.