SC 'hidden gem' tourism campaign skips Grand Strand

There’s a footnote state tourism promoters are quick to add to the latest advertising campaign touting South Carolina’s hidden gems: We aren’t forgetting about the Grand Strand.

The state’s biggest tourist destination – which attracts 14 million visitors a year – doesn’t have a starring role in the $4.4 million “Discover SC” advertisements, but state officials say they are helping “our homerun hitters” in other ways.

The S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, which handles promotion of the state’s $18 billion tourism industry, said it awarded the Grand Strand $6 million in grants for marketing the Myrtle Beach area this year, helped it bring the Golf Channel’s “Big Break” TV reality competition to the area last year and promotes the area in international markets.

“Beaches and golf are still important to us – they always will be,” department Director Duane Parrish said.

Parrish unveiled details of the current “Discover SC” campaign this week.

The campaign – aiming to extend the momentum of the successful Barbecue Trail promotion last year that included a map of 220 eateries across the state – highlights the state’s offerings off the beaten path, including hiking, biking, fishing and hunting.

The goal is to increase consumer awareness of the state’s undiscovered gems and help the tourism industry grow over 2014’s record performance, Parrish said. The Grand Strand’s towering SkyWheel or entertainment hubs such as Broadway at the Beach are hardly off the beaten path and don’t fit with the theme.

But Myrtle Beach tourism promoters have found a way to tie in with the state’s campaign.

Although Myrtle Beach is a tourism hub, it has its own hidden gems that the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce has started spotlighting with videos on its YouTube channel, said Scott Schult, the chamber’s marketing vice president.

The videos highlight niches that go beyond the 60 miles of beaches, golf courses and beachside attractions that might be off the radar of the average tourist, he said.

About 30 videos are posted of those offerings, including Conway Glass in Conway, the L.W. Paul Living History Farm and crabbing in Myrtle Beach. Several of those videos were used in the “60 More Days of Summer” campaign encouraging visits during the slower fall season.

“We are finding some of the undiscovered things in our area,” Schult said. “It really plays off it well. It ties in great” with the state’s “Discover SC” campaign.

“People are always looking for that unique thing to do on vacation.”

Parrish also updated tourism leaders on improvements to the state tourism website, discoversouthcarolina.com, that make it more interactive, create pages for promotions such as S.C. Seniors Week and add videos aiming to tell the stories of the state’s offerings, such as talking with a sweetgrass basketmaker from the Lowcountry.

The industry had another record year in 2014, with the key indicator of revenue per available room, or RevPar, up 11.2 percent compared to the previous year. Officials predict that 2015 will be better than last year.

The conference, with about 460 tourism leaders registered, continues through Wednesday, when state officials will announce the winners of the state’s annual awards for the best in the industry.