University of South Carolina

What's the big idea?

By Frenche Brewer,, 803-777-3691

In the United Kingdom, an app for film tourism was downloaded 87,000 times last year. Seriously.

The application not only maps out the most famous film scenes in Britain, but it allows users to browse famous Hollywood and independent films locations, whether they’re looking for Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, Batman’s Wayne Manor or Sherlock Holmes locations in London.

“It was incredible. These are tourists who wanted to see where the James Bond movie was filmed or where Robin Hood was filmed or where the Sherlock Holmes scene was shot. So you can download this app, and it will take you around the country,” said Simon Hudson, director of the SmartState Center of Excellence in Tourism and Economic Development at the University of South Carolina.

Hudson is trying to spur that same spirit of tourism entrepreneurism in South Carolina, and particularly in the Midlands.

He wants young people, particularly students, to come up with an idea for a South Carolina tourism business, and will help them get started with free office space and the use of a telephone and a computer for two years. That space would be in the USC/Columbia Technology Incubator in Columbia.

“At first, my idea was to create a stand-alone incubator for tourism, but I was going to need more matching dollars. I was approached by the USC incubator, which is not just all about science and engineering technologies, and they have space,” Hudson said.

When Hudson came on as center director, it was with the objective to conduct research that would generate jobs in South Carolina.

“I’m not a scientist creating a drug that’s going to cure a rare disease that I can patent and make money from. So I’ve got to somehow link what I do to job creation and I thought the incubator idea would be one way of doing that,” Hudson said.

Hudson’s idea for a tourism incubator began to take form after he traveled the state and noticed there was void of what he calls “tourism product” – or attractions outside of Charleston and Myrtle Beach.

“I look at South Carolina and we’re not really competitive with other parts of the U.S. and other parts of the world. We boast about beautiful beaches, and yes, that’s why a lot of people come here, but I think we need to look at what we have that other parts of the world don’t have, and that’s the African-American culture, the Gullah culture. I certainly think we could leverage that,” Hudson said.

Tourism and hospitality start-ups can expect to reap enormous benefits from the support they’ll receive from this new venture. Completing the business incubation program increases the likelihood that a start-up company will stay in business longer. For example, 87 percent of incubator graduates stay in business for more than five years. Forty percent of those who don’t will fail within the first five years. Hudson said the incubator program will be a valuable tool, not only for developing and promoting tourism, but for showing that the SmartState Center and USC are forerunners in developing the state’s potential and future entrepreneurial success.

Bill Kirkland, entrepreneur in residence for the USC/Columbia Technology Incubator, forecasts great results from this partnership.

“With a strong history of success in technological innovation for the business ecosystem, we are excited about this new partnership and how our entrepreneurial programs can apply to the tourism industry,” Kirkland said.

Hudson is certain there are some budding entrepreneurs just waiting for the opportunity to launch a business that capitalizes on the tourism dollars waiting to be snapped up, but who need a financial boost to get started. He’s also certain that many of those potential entrepreneurs are students.

“In my class you only get one entrepreneur out of 15 who’s got a brilliant plan. Why not help them if they’ve got that idea and a plan and they’re really keen on the industry? Why not nurture them?”

To lure these potential business neophytes, Hudson has proposed a competition among the state’s college students. The criteria are simple — start a company that has a potential to create high paying tourism jobs, perhaps one in technology.

So, where’s the most popular tourism site in South Carolina? There could soon be an “app” for that.

Posted: 09/14/12 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 09/14/12 @ 3:55 PM | Permalink