York County should tap into the opportunities created by I-77

dworthington@heraldonline.comSeptember 8, 2013 

York County’s greatest asset possibly is its north-south river. Thousands of opportunities traverse it daily in both directions, Charlotte to the south, Columbia to the north.

A north-south river? The Catawba River? No, a north-south river without water. A river of concrete and billboards, of exits and gas stations, a river of opportunity.

“Interstate 77 is a river of money,” says Berkeley Young.

Young is a consultant to the hospitality industry and was keynote speaker for the recent “Building Our Bridge to the Future” tourism summit hosted by the Rock Hill/York County Convention & Visitors Bureau and York County Partners in Tourism.

Young’s river analogy was appropriate. To bring business to York County, local officials need to know the likes and dislikes, the wants and needs, the goals and dreams of those passing by. The challenge is landing them, getting them to stop, getting them to stay--having the right kind of bait, rod and reel.

Young stressed that York County is already a tourism destination. Carowinds is the largest gated attraction in South Carolina and is planning to get bigger and better. The amusement park will invest $50 million over the next three years to strengthen its position as a regional draw. The “Thrill Capital of the Southeast” wants more and more visitors to make Carowinds a two-day experience. Typically, those longer-stay visitors look for other things to do in the area.

Marion Edmonds, spokesman for the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, said York County and Rock Hill are the model for sports tourism in the state.

Kids and families are coming here. What can we do better to bring more couples ages 35 to 65 here? They are the sweet spot of tourism, people with time to travel and money to spend.

Among Young’s insights into this group is that travel is therapy for them. They want someone to “take care of their experience,” Young said. That’s why destinations that offer it all are popular with these travelers.

They are usually interested in the story of where they visit, but not all the details.

There are a lot of stories to tell in our region: the Catawba Indian Nation and its heritage, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Civil Rights movement and the rise and fall of the textile industry.

And a river runs through most of these stories. The Catawba River and Lake Wylie are still largely hidden gems.

We are starting to tap some of their potential. Look at the number of out-of-state license plates at Riverwalk, proof people are coming to walk the river trail.

Or look at the activities on Lake Wylie. There have been pro and college bass fishing tournaments and the lake will be the site of the 2013 National Wakeboarding championships. From Sept. 27 through Sept. 29, wakeboarders in 11 divisions, including the men’s and women’s pro competitions, will be at Ebenezer Park.

The challenge for the river and the lake will be to continue to provide user and spectator access and offering the amenities those coming to lake seek.

Officials from the convention and visitors bureau took careful notes from last week’s conference. Their goal is to build partnerships with people and businesses throughout the region to reach their goals. The summit was billed as building a bridge; perhaps it should have been come jump in the water with us.

Over the next few weeks, the bureau will host a series of small group meetings to refine its goals and strategies.

Bureau officials may be guided by one piece of Young’s advice: you can’t be everything to everyone. Determine your resources, fiscal and physical, and develop the appropriate strategies.

The one goal they need not lose sight of is creating an experience that makes people happy--happy people spend more--and create memories.

How will we know if we are reaching that goal?

Young said it can be as simple as a group asking a waiter or waitress to take a picture of them before they leave. The fact that they want a photo means they want to capture the memory, a memory of their visit that can last a lifetime.

Don Worthington 803-329-4066 dworthington@heraldonline.com

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