African- American Tourism Conference: Economic Impact

What can get African- American residents from cash strapped but historic communities and officials from the tourism industry, both engaged in the discussion of African American Tourism? Billions of dollars of economic impact! More is always better and Tourism Industry officials are always looking for strategies to increase the number of visitors to South Carolina, and the development of the African- American niche is one such strategy with promise. The charleston visitor economy generates $27 Billion dollars in gross sales within the tri-county area. The African- American niche of this sector can add millions of additional visitors coming to this state and thus increase the industry’s economic impact on the state. The potential is there, perhaps more so than anywhere else in the nation, because in Charleston, and South Carolina we are rich in spiritual, cultural, and entrepreneurial traditions. This potential has been stifled by the failure of local and state governments and regional visitor bureaus to collaborate, and strategize with African- American businesses, and non- profits concerning this niche. The process of removing this obstacle begins with the convening of the annual African- American Tourism Conferences, whose goals are to 1) Educate residents & tourism industry officials about the benefits of investing into the development of this niche, and 2) strategize on the future growth and development of this niche of the industry.


Millions of New Visitors Means More Money for Everyone!

African-American tourists are responsible for a whopping $2.4 billion in economic impact for South Carolina. That is just one of the findings from a study recently completed by USC’s SmartState Center of Economic Excellence in Tourism in partnership with JC & Associates. The study, jointly funded by the Center and SCPRT, also found significant potential to grow this segment, along with high interest from travelers of all races outside of the state wanting to explore our African-American cultural experiences. For example, a 5% increase in visitors interested in this niche would produce an impact of $118 Million.

Overall, South Carolina has a 5% share of the U.S. African-American travel market, ranking 13th among the 50 states, but it lags behind other Southern States in successfully developing this market. According to the US Travel Data center, more than half of the 33.1 million African-Americans in the U.S. live in Southern states, and are much more likely to travel in the region (63%), compared to travelers overall (39%). We can draw more visitors and their dollars with the enticement of this niche, but first we must invest attention and resources as local and state governments, and regional visitor bureaus.


Minor Investment by Local/State Government or Visitor Bureaus

While there have been parochial efforts by non-profits or the private sector to develop this niche there has been no serious investment by local government, or state government. $375 million dollars of investment by these governmental and quasi- governmental entities in the state’s other tourism sectors or niches has resulted in the industry’s recent feats as it relates to growth and increased economic impact. The Charleston Convention and Visitor’s Bureau has recognized the potential and has invested resources The investment of the public agencies comes in the form of funding economic impact studies, and funding of marketing campaigns that include advertising buys in national and international markets. People invest in what they care about, and if the Charleston and the State wants to grow this area of the industry they have to put some money behind it. Cities around the country are using tax dollars to set up minority tourism networks linking minority vendors with consumers, including New Orleans, Atlanta, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Portland, Ore. A number of areas have notable African-American heritage programs including Atlanta, Alabama, Washington D.C. and Boston (the Black Heritage Trail). A sample of black heritage tour operators include: The Travel Scene, Birmingham, Ala.; African-American Heritage Tours, Chicago, Ill.; Adine’s Tour and Travel, Philadelphia; Living History Tours. Charleston, S.C.; Heritage Tours, Memphis, Tenn.; Sussex Tours, Richmond, Va.; Capitol Entertainment Services Inc., Washington, DC; Tourmobile Sightseeing, Washington, DC.

Traditionally, a strong local African-American culture, good air transportation, a large supply of first-class hotel accommodations and a large volume of meeting space have characterized the top cities for African-American conventions, reunions, and visitors. Sounds like Charleston to me!

The Potential

Churches- African- American Churches around South Carolina offer visitors a unique opportunity to experience a unique and authentic piece of African- American Lowcountry culture. The church is one of the surviving institutions in the African American community and thus has preserved much of our African- American heritage. They can experience in a number of ways such as worship services. Learn history of the church and neighborhood via tours and lectures, and conferences. The architectural history of the Southern Black Church is another aspect the visitor can experience. Some churches date back from the 1700s and have been immaculately maintained, so locals and visitors can step back into time. These worship houses have been preserved in its original condition, and features beautiful stained glass windows and original woodwork throughout.

Festival, Conference, and Special Event Coordinators- There are a plethora of festivals, conferences, and special events taking place throughout the state coordinated by talented individuals with an amazing entrepreneurial spirit. These coordinators produce events that have the potential to draw additional millions to the state. Festivals such as the Sweetgrass Festival in Mt. Pleasant, The Remembrance Celebration on Ft. Moultrie, the Sweet Potatoes Festival in Columbia, and The Heritage Festival in Beaufort not only celebrate rich South Carolina traditions but offer visitors a chance to diversify their experience. Imagine the boost these events will receive when they are included in the national marketing campaigns of both of the various regional visitor and convention bureaus, or the State PRT office.

Business or Potential Businesses- The key to tapping into this industry for the community is product development. Product development in the area of tourism is defined as the specialization through the creation of products targeted toward specific market segments for the purpose of creating of value in a tourism destination. The community must investigate new products to offer or develop new ways to package and market old traditions and crafts. Perhaps you have an idea for an African- American styled bed and breakfast. Maybe you have an idea to bring visitors to John’s Island to experience the fishing traditions of Gullah folk. Visitors come to Charleston to experience the culture of the Holy City, and want authenticity- something real- and they will pay for this authentic experience. The conference discusses the strategies and resources in place and the ones that are needed to make this happen.

Think Tank

The final session of the day is a strategic planning session laying out the goals and objectives of the African- American Tourism Council. The AATC’s goal is to grow the African- American niche of the tourism industry. The objective of the AATC are 1) Economic Impact Study- Educate stakeholders of findings, 2) Tourism Promotion, 3) Product Development, 4) Increased Funding and Investment by public and private sectors, and the 5) Further Development of Advisory Council.

Let’s Get This Money!

The Annual African- American Tourism Conference is designed to show residents from cash poor but culturally rich communities, how to engage in the opportunities that exist within the tourism industry. It is also designed to show tourism Industry leaders how this niche can grow the overall industry by attracting millions of additional visitors interested in the African- American history and culture of our state. A timely synergetic investment by local/ state government, and regional visitor bureaus can serve as the catalyst to achieve this economic benefit. We have the rich Gullah traditions alive and well in the historic churches, historic schools, existing and potential businesses within our borders to provide locals and visitors an experience that will educate their minds, and touch their souls. Join The Wando- Huger, CDC on September 30th at 9am at the Beatty Center for Entrepreneurship, College of Charleston so that we may strategize within the framework of a think- tank of ideas, stratagem, and resources for the development and advancement of the African- American Tourism sector in the state of South Carolina.

– Kwadjo Campbell

Wando- Huger CDC

A Community Development Corporation task with the economic, social, and cultural development of the Cainhoy community East of the Cooper River. The organization has restored the Keith School which serves asa museum and community meeting space. The organization is also dedication to preservation of the Cainhoy community through education and self- sustainable development initiatives such as affordable housing.

African- American Tourism Advisory Council

Group meets annually at the SC African American Tourism Conference to decide on goals and objectives for the upcoming year in the advancement of this niche within the Tourism Industry. The group is comprised of stakeholders from within the Tourism Industry.

JC & Associates

Economic, Planning, and Political Development firm dedicated to building self- sustainable communities. The firm provides planning services for Wando- Huger, CDC.