Incoming York County tourism head: ‘We want to go after the big fish’
When it comes to economic impact, unincorporated areas of York County are welcomed to the hospitality table.
Billy Dunlap, executive director of the Rock Hill/York County Convention & Visitors Bureau, recently updated York County Council on the growing list attractions drawing people here. That list stretched beyond Rock Hill, or even neighboring Fort Mill, Tega Cay, Clover and York.
"Specifically what I want to talk about are the unincorporated areas," Dunlap told Council members.
Unincorporated areas are the outlying areas beyond city or town limits. They include high-growth areas like Baxter, all of Lake Wylie and the Carowinds corridor — full of new homes and businesses. They also include rural areas like western York County.
Both of those areas offer people a good time — and bring in tax revenue.
"Fishing was big in the last few months," Dunlap said.
Last fall, the FLW Tour stop brought 160 anglers for an event that launched at Buster Boyd Access Area. Another event, the Riley's Cup high school tournament, brought 600 anglers and an estimated 1,500 people. Those events combined for about $130,000 in economic impact, Dunlap said.
Even on a lake that once hosted a Bassmaster Classic, the Riley's Catch event was, by sheer number of anglers, unprecedented on Wylie.
"It was the largest fishing event to date in Lake Wylie history," Dunlap said.
This fall, Lake Wylie will host another large event, a Fishers of Men National Tournament Trail championship. It should bring 200 anglers.
Visitors, particularly for multi-day events, spend money on food, hotel rooms and other things. That means less of a tax burden on county residents. Sales tax revenue helps pay for the Pennies for Progress road improvement program, new sports venues through the county hospitality tax and other costs.
Unincorporated areas probably will never compete with Rock Hill. Last year, sports venues in the city generated more than $40 million and almost 70,000 overnight hotel stays. Cherry Park, Manchester Meadows and others brought in 89 events. That's does not include non-sporting events like festivals and other attractions.
However, while outlying events are smaller in scale, their impact is significant.
The aquatic center in Lake Wylie recently held three large swim meets. Those events can bring in 1,500 people.
York and Nation Ford high schools recently hosted, or will host, almost a half dozen youth football or basketball events, combining for more than 3,000 participants and well into a six-figure economic impact. The April 21-22 Rival Camp Series football event at Nation Ford should bring in elite high school players and coaches looking to find out who could be the sport's future stars.
"There's a lot of talent here in York County," said Andy Clinton with the CVB, "And we're glad to host this event and provide a platform to showcase some great talent."
Then, there's the Football University event this summer and its anticipated 1,500 participants. Guests should come from 46 states, adding $2 million in economic impact.
"It is the largest football camp in the country, and it's right here in York County," Dunlap said.
That is expected to generate about 3,000 room night stays.
"It is truly a countywide event," Dunlap said.
Because more events are happening at more places in York County, Dunlap's group isn't content to sit back and hope guests will find them. A new mobile visitor center is planned.
What is a mobile visitor center?
"Think about a food truck, except we're not going to hand out tacos," Dunlap said. "We're going to hand out brochures and information about York County. ... In the past, the CVB has focused on visitors coming to us to get information," Dunlap said. "This visitor center will allow us to go to the outlying areas of York County to provide visitor services at events."
They still will use an app, push notifications and other electronic means to promote county sites and restaurants. The mobile unit also would allow them, in cases of highly-attended events, to have a presence on-site.
"We're going to take the mobile visitor center there and service our visitors there on-site, instead of expecting them to come to Rock Hill," Dunlap said.
Part of the reason for focusing on tourism in unincorporated areas is necessity.
For the past couple years, York County Council has made it clear it wants to spend hospitality tax money, generated by a tax on prepared food and drink in incorporated areas, on tourism projects that drive more business to restaurants there.
The visitors bureau relies heavily on the county, specifically hospitality tax, for its funding.
“The ultimate goal is to ensure we increase the unincorporated area generation of revenue,” York County Councilwoman Christi Cox said earlier this year.
Another part of the focus on a wider section of York County is, there's interest. Next spring the South Carolina Humanities Festival is planned for several parts of York County, including the western part. It should bring lectures, discussions, films, exhibits.
"That event will focus on the City of York, the Catawba Indian Reservation and Kings Mountain Military National Park," Dunlap said.
The three main areas council is discussing for future tourism spending — Lake Wylie, the Catawba River and agritourism — all offer something beyond large, in-city events.
"We've also turned our focus toward agritourism, as I know the county has as well," Dunlap said.
Agritourism in particular can help York County residents who may not have considered ways to draw guests.
"Our push is going to be to work with local farmers to help them with their efforts in agritourism, and what is called 'agritainment,'" Dunlap said. "Agritainment is an interesting term, isn't it? But that is helping these farmers do something that they're not normally used to doing, which is marketing their farms."
Farms are a good ways off from the sports complexes of Rock Hill, both on the map and in feel, but have some of the same aims for county tourism pros. To bring people, and their money, to stay awhile.
Want to go?
York County's annual self-guided Ag + Art Tour of local farms and markets and featuring local artists, is coming up June 9. For more information, go to agandarttour.com/york or call 803-230-2336 or 803-981-3021.