Enquirer Herald

Will pathway to Democratic Convention wind through SC?

It's slightly more than six months until the party starts in Charlotte.

The president is coming. So, too, are 6,000 delegates, 15,000 members of the media and thousands of guests, staff and the just-plain-interested folk. The 2012 Democratic Convention appears to be everything it promised.

Actually, it's a series of parties. When delegates are not at Time-Warner Cable Arena, they will be entertained at events scattered around Charlotte with a big shindig scheduled at Lowe's Motor Speedway on Labor Day.

What is South Carolina's slice of the party pie? State and regional tourism officials, plus volunteers, are developing strategies to lure some of the convention throng south of the border.

Several things are crucial. Who do we target? What do we promote? What's the best way of reaching people? What is the best time to send tweets, emails and other marketing pieces? Have we waited too long to do all these things?

"This is not a political event for us," says Jayne Scarborough, executive director of the Olde English District, which does tourism marketing for York, Chester, Lancaster and five other nearby counties.

"This is a tourism event, we have to treat it that way. Who would ignore thousands of guests?" she said.

Historically, South Carolina has not treated its guests, or even its residents, well, says Simon Hudson, director of the South Carolina Center for Economic Excellence in Tourism and Economic Development.

The awareness of what South Carolina has to offer is low among residents and potential visitors, he said. Media attention on the state is often negative and "we don't do enough to counter that."

To do that, "you've got to spend money and we don't do that," he said, adding there is a lack of understanding on return on investment with tourism, which is at least 10 to 1, or $10 in revenue for every dollar invested.

Local tourism officials did not budget funds specifically for convention marketing. Any funds raised will come from private sources or from existing budgets, Scarborough said.

The plan is for hotels to have tourism guides. A mass emailing will be sent to each state delegation, telling them what we offer. Social media - Twitter, Facebook and other Internet options - will be used extensively to get the message out.

We know what we have. What do we do to "hook" convention visitors?

Here a few suggestions. These pitches can be done inexpensively. All, however, rely on cooperation.

Discount for Dems

Anyone with a credential to the convention gets a discount on purchases made in South Carolina. We already have one great advantage - cheaper gas prices than North Carolina - expect that to be tweeted extensively closer to the convention.

When convention visitors come to buy gas, let's give them a break. After all, it's unexpected business, a bonus - what those from Louisiana call "lagniappe," a little something extra.

Pathway to Presidency

Barack Obama is hoping his pathway to a second term as president runs through Charlotte. It's not the first time that path has come through the Carolinas. Presidents Andrew Jackson and James Polk had deep Carolina roots.

First, let's put aside, at least for the convention, the debate whether Jackson was born near a creek in Waxhaw, N.C., or in a cabin near Lancaster

For the convention, the pathway to the presidency leads to Pineville, N.C., and the President James K. Polk State Historic Site on Lancaster Highway, then down the highway to the Andrew Jackson State Park.

State tourism officials in North and South Carolina need to make sure each site is open and staffed. Maybe a little lagniappe could be thrown in too - schedule some interpretative programs or kid-friendly activities during the convention on the days before and after the event.

Pathways to freedom

Pivotal Revolutionary War battles were fought in South Carolina, including at Kings Mountain and Brattonsville, a quick ride from Charlotte. Again, make it easy to understand, and kid friendly. A couple of re-enactors firing away wouldn't hurt either.

To attract a different set of guests, remember to tweet that part of the movie "The Patriot" was filmed at Brattonsville. It would be even better if we could get Mel Gibson to come sit on the home's porch for awhile.

Another pathway to freedom started at Brattonsville, winds through downtown Rock Hill and cuts through east and south to Orangeburg. It's the pathway to freedom for South Carolina slaves and the Civil Rights movement.

Brattonsville has slave cabins. Rock Hill has the Old Town Bistro restaurant on Main Street, where 51 years ago, students from Friendship Junior College made their stand for equal rights. You can sit at the counter where they tried to order food but were arrested instead.

Orangeburg has South Carolina State College, now university, where three students died and 27 were wounded in their struggle for civil rights.

Convention Classic

Finally, take it to the base paths with the Carolina Convention Classic.

The final three games of the International League baseball season pit the Durham Bulls against the Charlotte Knights - a Saturday game in Durham followed by two games in Fort Mill. At least for three games, let South Carolina claim the Knights; after all, they play all their home games here. Winner of two games claims the classic's title.

Obama is a fan of the Knights' parent club, the Chicago White Sox. Maybe some Sox stars of old could come for the games.

Make sure those with convention credentials get discounted tickets, a free hot dog, peanuts and Crackerjacks. And we do care if they come back.

If we can find the spirit of cooperation in Washington, maybe the Nationals baseball team would lend us their presidents. At each National home game, presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt race, each president wearing a giant caricature head. Legend has it Teddy has never won. Maybe a change of venue would help him.

Unfortunately, the Nationals have a homestand with the Chicago Cubs that weekend. But since we already have a large slice of Chicago at the convention, maybe they'd be willing to make a temporary trade - Homer and Caroline for the presidents?

Maybe the dragons would add some fire to the Nationals.