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College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management

The Richardson Family SmartState Center of Economic Excellence in Tourism and Economic Development

What We Do

Tourism is now the number one industry in South Carolina, responsible for more than $20 billion in annual revenue. The industry employs more than 200,000 people — approximately 10 percent of South Carolina's workforce. It also returns roughly $10 on every dollar invested. Through research, collaboration and promotion, we can continue to improve and grow tourism throughout the state.

For projects that have the potential to spur tourism economic development and create jobs in the state of South Carolina, the Center can offer matching funds.

Tourism development research

Case study: In 2011, the Center undertook a research study on tourism development in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina. The study was an exploration of the perspectives from both industry stakeholders and consumers on the potential for tourism development in the region. Stakeholder interviews, focus groups and intercept surveys of potential and current visitors revealed the need for a comprehensive destination brand strategy. It was also determined that cooperative and aggressive marketing among key stakeholders, increased accessibility and signage and an upgrading of the basic tourism infrastructure through the development of new tourism products was needed.

Feasibility studies 

Case study: In 2012, the Center conducted a feasibility study on the possible development of a major international horse park in the Aiken area. The study included an industry analysis, a tourism resource inventory of Aiken and surrounding areas, a stakeholder perception and attitude study, projected market demand for the various components of the park, potential direct and indirect economic impacts, and a sustainability analysis. Results of the study revealed mixed support among the community members for the development of the international horse park. However, if the town were to go forward with the development of the horse park, the team recommended that a purposeful and cautious plan be implemented that included considerations for the social and environmental impact as well as the development of a multi-use venue to optimize the economic impact.

New product development research

Case study: In 2012, the Center examined what type of restaurant residents living in Lake City and surrounding areas would like to see on Main Street in Lake City, SC. The research was done by first conducting two focus groups with residents of Lake City and Florence and then a detailed questionnaire was developed based on the results of focus groups and on previous restaurant literature. Based on the results the Center suggested the client establish an independent and unique casual-themed restaurant that offers high quality food with impeccable service – one that can seamlessly transition from lunch to dinner menu items. Such a restaurant would need to develop a thorough and consistent training program for management and staff of the restaurant in order to ensure consistency in quality food and service.

Identification of new tourism markets

Case study: In 2013, the Center was awarded a grant by the Department of Commerce to examine opportunities for attracting new markets to the Pee Dee region of South Carolina. The Center will be undertaking a brand-building exercise in order to create a strong unified brand for the Pee Dee, providing a strategy for promoting this brand through innovative digital marketing strategies, whilst creating economic indices to measure the effectiveness of these initiatives. The ultimate goal is job creation. The brand-building project has four important stages: establishing the core values of the Pee Dee; brand identity development; implementation; and evaluation.

Destination branding

Case study: In 2013, in collaboration with Rawl Murday Marketing Group and UofSC Beaufort, the Center launched a rebranding research study in Bluffton, SC. This three-phase project started with a market investigation establishing the core values of the town and its relevance to today’s tourists, residents and business communities. The team conducted four town charettes, 39 key informant interviews and disseminated electronic and intercept surveys to five community sectors including residents, visitors, local leaders, existing business owners and potential business owners. Based on the data analysis provided, a brand identity was developed and tested. The final phase included the successful launch of mixed-media marketing plan for the brand.

Consumer research

Case study: An internal research grant was awarded to the Center to conduct research on consumer behavior related to health and wellness tourism. The primary location for the collection of the qualitative data for this study was Hilton Head where individual interviews and focus groups were conducted with visitors to a wellness facility on Hilton Head Island. In addition, the team utilized an online panel survey and applied the Theory of Planned Behavior to investigate perceptions and attitudes toward health and wellness tourism in general.

Case study: In 2016, the SmartState team surveyed African-American tourists finding that they are responsible for a whopping $2.4 billion in economic impact for South Carolina. The study, jointly funded by the Center and South Carolina Parks, Recreation and Tourism, 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. Certainly, the removal of the Confederate flag has boosted this interest, with almost half of the travelers surveyed saying that it had, or would, influence their decision to travel to South Carolina. However, we already know that travel decisions of African-Americans are closely related to their perceptions of welcome and racial acceptance, and this study confirmed that: 50% of African-Americans who have not been to the state before fear racial discrimination if they travel here.

General tourism research

Case study: In 2013, the Center was awarded a grant by the US Travel Association to study the correlation between domestic youth travel and educational outcomes. Many studies have been conducted that establish the relationship between the study abroad experience of college-age students and educational outcomes, but there is a dearth of research regarding domestic travel among youth and the relationship with educational outcomes. This study is one component of the broader Travel Effect study that suggests that travel has a measurable and purposeful impact. Results from this study contribute to the Travel Effect body of research.

Economic impact studies

The team is currently collaborating on proposals with a number of partners to perform economic impact studies to evaluate their current and future tourism products. While the identified product varies from venue development to the impact of regional tourism, each study aims to measure the economic impact of tourism on their respective communities. Data collected aims to measure direct and indirect economic impact, return on investment, justification for the use of funds, identify benchmarks for future marketing and project decisions and provide projected future revenues.

Concept or white papers

Case study: In collaboration with researchers from the Moore Business School, the Center wrote two white papers for Pitney Bowes that explored the new digital era of marketing communications, an era dominated by mobile information and social media accessibility. The papers described how marketers can leverage various social media platforms and services to touch customers at various stages of the buying process. They also highlighted the significance of emotions in marketing, and how emotional appeals are increasingly employed, both on- and off-line, to drive loyalty and build relationships.

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.