New tourism leader says York County ‘a national player’ for coveted events

Billy Dunlap had just graduated from Clemson University in 1991 when he took a job at Rock Hill’s Cherry Park.

He spent six months learning how to run the local sports leagues at the park, from from softball to football, and baseball to soccer. It was a full-time job to organize coaches, put teams together, schedule the games and set up practices for hundreds of participants.

Dunlap was returning to his roots after graduating from Rock Hill High in 1987.

Nearly 20 years later, Dunlap is back in York County. This time, he’ll be promoting more than sports.

Dunlap was named earlier this week as the new executive director of the Rock Hill/York County Convention & Visitors Bureau. The group, which markets tourism and York County as a destination, boasts a budget of more than $1.1 million, almost all of which comes from York County hospitality taxes.

Dunlap said he was thrilled to move back to his hometown. He said Rock Hill and York County have changed since the early 1990s.

“When I left, about 35,000 were here in Rock Hill,” he said. “It’s about 75,000 now. It’s so different and vibrant. Rock Hill and York County have prospered so much over the years.”

Dunlap has spent the past decade as the owner of Dunlap Media, a digital media company in Laurens that publishes GoLaurens.com, a digital-only news site.

After spending time at traditional newspapers such as the Greenwood Index-Journal and Anderson Independent-Mail, Dunlap said he wanted to create an online news site for readers who didn’t want to wait for a weekly newspaper.

Working as an entrepreneur, driven to cover and report local news quickly and accurately, helped shape Dunlap’s competitive drive, he said.

“And I take that to whatever I do,” he said. “When we’re competing for tournaments and events, I want us to go after the things we want to go after. The more we do that, the more successful we’ll be.”

He said his experience in social media and search engine optimization will mesh well with his tourism position.

Amanda Munyan, president and CEO of the Laurens County Chamber of Commerce, called Dunlap “energetic” and said he made connections with people. Munyan knew Dunlap during his 7-year stretch as head of the Laurens County Touchdown Club.

“He’s very easy to work with, with a big personality,” Munyan said. “Everyone in York County will enjoy working with him. We’ll certainly miss him greatly here.”

‘Connecting people’

Dunlap spent several years surrounded by sports tourism as president and founder of Laurens Little League Baseball organization. He believes York County is in prime position to take advantage of sports tourism.

Rock Hill officials estimate the 2017 UCI BMX World Championships held this summer generated more than $19.2 million for the area. The international event attracted nearly 20,000 guests.

A proposed 170,000-square-foot indoor sports arena near the corner of West White and Laurel streets could be finished by the spring 2019, developers say. City leaders estimate the complex would likely attract at least $10 million a year in tourism revenue and could attract regional tournaments in indoor sports such as basketball and volleyball.

Dunlap, who has served as a NCAA Division I men’s basketball official for 21 years, said it was important to the York County CVB make key relationships with decision-makers.

“I want to know who the players are,” Dunlap said. “I want to have a relationship with the people who decide where AAU tournaments go. We know Charlotte’s just up the road, but we need to tell the story of what we do. We want to be sure that Rock Hill and York County are on the radar.”

Dunlap and his wife, Kimberly, have three children: Bailey, 20, Conner, 17, and Sydney, 14. Dunlap is the nephew of former Rock Hill Mayor Betty Jo Rhea.

Dr. Stephen Peters, superintendent of District 55 Schools in Laurens County, said Dunlap was a model parent and citizen.

“I’m happy for Billy,” Peters said. “He’ll be doing exactly what he has a passion to do, that’s connecting people to other people. He’ll be working for an agency that he believes can bring good to the community and those in it.”

Auvis Cole, assistant director of the bureau, has served as interim executive director since April when Lisa Meadows, executive director since 2012, submitted her resignation.

Dunlap said he is looking forward to studying the bureau’s marketing plan in January to help set goals for 2018. He wants to ensure every York County visitor — whether they come for the county’s museums, its lakes and rivers, or its softball tournaments — leave feeling happy about their time in the area.

“We’re gathering the audience and bringing them to the table,” Dunlap said. “We want people to come, to enjoy themselves while they’re here, and we want them to come back.”

David Thackham: 803-329-4066, @dthackham