Beaufort, Port Royal Look to Build on Strong Tourism Year

[Bloomberg via The Island Packet (Hilton Head Island, S.C.)]

April 08--Hopes are high that 2016 will be a strong tourism year for northern Beaufort County include Port Royal following sizable gains in 2015.

Last year, the area saw an increase in visitors and money spent on hotels despite a dip in the fall following heavy flooding in other parts of the state. The boost could be due to an improved economy, lower gas prices and buzz about being a place that routinely shows up on lists of best vacation spots by national publications and websites.

"I think what you saw was a healthy travel economy in our area," said Robb Wells, vice president for tourism at the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce. "I think that made a lot of people end the year great and give us a great opportunity in 2016. We're already seeing the numbers are growing further."

Hotels reported a 9 percent boost in occupancy in 2015 from the previous year. They brought in $23 million percent, up 10 percent over 2014, and the average daily rate for rooms rose 3.5 percent.

About a third of the additional people to stay here in the area can probably be attributed to more recruits graduating from Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, Wells said.

More people want information about the area, he added, evidenced by sharp jumps each of the past three years in email inquiries, visitor guide requests and other online metrics.

The area benefited by press coverage, including a spread in Garden & Gun magazine for Bay Street's Anchorage 1770, a new inn. And The New York Times squeezed Beaufort, SC in at No. 52 on its "52 Places to Go in 2016," -- "Petite Beaufort has the appeal of a much larger city," the newspaper raved.

Beaufort also landed on a list of Outside Magazine's top small towns, and Port Royal was named the best place in the country to walk and bike by MONEY.

"They keep hearing about this place; they keep making itinerary changes based on the latest and greatest place to travel," Wells said.

The positive numbers aren't limited to Beaufort.

The trend is statewide, said Katie Montgomery, with the S.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association. She pointed to recent state Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department numbers, showing tourism to be a $19 billion industry in the South Carolina.

That number was the economic impact in 2014, a 5.5 percent increase over the previous year.

Statewide, hotel occupancy was up 2 percent and revenue per room up 7 percent, the state's tourism department said in February.

Local hotels are noticing the uptick. The Beaufort Inn, for example, had its best year in 2015 for both occupancy and room rates, said general manager Stacy Price.

Peak season began last month, she said. On Thursday night, the inn was booked for the weekend.

The influx of visitors could be due to better feelings about the economy and all the good press. The Beaufort Inn also hosted Garden & Gun last year, as well as a stream of other travel writers.

Like other hotels, revenue targets were short after the catastrophic flooding this past October, Price said. People either couldn't travel to the area or were scared away by what was happening in other parts of the state.

Most of the time, it's weather in other parts of the country dictating whether tourists make it here, Price noted. The recent streak of blue skies and 70-degree temperatures are surely among the draws.

"I know some businesses say an election year is a down year for them," Price said. "We're not feeling that at this point."

Stephen Fastenau: 843-706-8182, @IPBG_Stephen


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