More expected to travel to emerging SC destinations this summer

06/20/2013 10:45 PM

06/21/2013 7:22 AM

More people will be traveling this summer to South Carolina’s traditional vacation hot spots, but a few of the state’s less typical destinations also should see a boost, industry experts say.

Out-of-state tourists, and even residents in search of weekend getaways, are heading to cities like Greenville and Columbia for outdoor recreation and history.

“We have been extremely encouraged to see a surge in tourism in the Upstate and in the Midlands,” said John Durst, executive director of the S.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association. “Visitors are going in increasing numbers to what we called undiscovered areas, off-the-beaten path areas, to discover the tourism that’s available.”

An improving economy and stable gas prices on this first day of summer bode well for summer getaways, especially by car.

The average cost of a gallon of regular gas in South Carolina is $3.26, 20 cents lower than the average prices in North Carolina and Georgia, with average prices steady for the past month, said Simon Hudson, director and endowed chair of the Center of Economic Excellence in Tourism and Economic Development at the University of South Carolina.

The cost to fill up shouldn’t deter much of what Hudson called South Carolina’s “rubber tire traffic,” coming from around the state as well as places as far away as New York and Ohio.

A boost in “historical culture tourism” is one of the things drawing visitors inland, Hudson said.

Columbia’s history, which can be traced back to the Civil War and further, along with the riverfront are the state capital’s two biggest draws, said Kim Jamieson, a spokeswoman for the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports and Tourism. Visitors frequent the State House, enjoy tours of historic homes downtown and cool off with kayak rides down the Congaree River.

“When you can be in a major metropolitan city and be in walking distance from waterways and greenways that you can just hop in, it’s great,” Jamieson said.

Outdoor enthusiasts also are flocking to Greenville in increasing numbers, said Marion Edmonds, a spokesman for the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. Its location in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and its proximity to state parks are major draws for people looking for activities like hiking and mountain biking.

While the weather has not been ideal the past few weeks, state parks in the Greenville area are still seeing steady traffic.

“Even when the weather’s been the chanciest, we’ve had high demands for our iconic locations ... in the mountains,” Edmonds said.

The expansion of Greenville’s downtown, with more hotels and restaurants, along with Fluor Field, has opened the Upstate city to discovery by people looking for an inexpensive getaway, Edmonds said.

“In Greenville, it’s like what they used to say about Myrtle Beach,” Edmonds said. “If you don’t go each year, it’s a different place every time you go.”

But increased traffic to South Carolina’s two major inland cities won’t diminish the volume of tourists that typically descend upon the state’s beaches.

Hudson, who has been working with the town of Bluffton on a project, said the Lowcountry already is seeing a large number of vacationers.

“I was amazed at how busy it was on Hilton Head Island last week,” Hudson said. “The locals are complaining, but those in the tourism industry are happy.”

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