From the LRITI Director, Affiliated Researchers, and Industry Leaders and Executives
Lowcountry and Resort Islands Tourism Institute @ USCB
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The LRITI Blog
This page is dedicated to advancing the efforts of the Lowcountry hospitality and tourism industry. In addition to LRITI affiliated researchers, leaders and executives working in the hospitality and tourism industry will be guest bloggers on an occasional basis.The blogs below are in order by release date. The opinions expressed on this site are those of the individual author and do not reflect any official policy or statement by the University of South Carolina Beaufort. 

From the LRITI Director, Affiliated Researchers, and Industry Leaders and Executives

Are festivals a reason for travel?

by Lowcountry and Resort Islands Tourism Institute on 04/28/15

This blog was written by Ms. Samantha Smith, a University of South Carolina Beaufort (USCB) student studying Hospitality Management. She is also a Research Assistant for USCB's Lowcountry and Resort Islands Tourism Institute (LRITI).

With the peak season just around the corner and the travel rankings just off the press, what actually influences the decision to travel to a particular destination?  Destinations in the South Carolina Lowcountry and Coastal Empire of Georgia have ranked in the top 15% in the last few years according to Conde Nast, Huffington Post and Golf Digest, just to name a few. These rankings can include anything from golf course rankings to friendliest cities.

Festival season seems to hit just as the peak season ends. Last year, the 2014 Savannah Food & Wine Festival was held around mid-November. You would expect most of the attendees to the event to be local residents within a 50 mile radius of the Savannah metro area. In 2013, 51% of the 233 event attendees surveyed were residents of Savannah. In 2014, of the 325 attendees surveyed the number of residents dropped to 22%.

For the 2014 event, the number of Savannah residents declined while the number of out of state attendees increased 30% when compared to the 2013 festival. This percent change begets the question: did they decide to travel due to the availability of a particular festival? The results say yes.

Of the surveys taken in 2013, 47% of visitors stated that a festival was their primary reason for the visit. Over 70% said that the Savannah Food & Wine was influential or very influential when planning their trip. In 2014, those numbers increased showing that for 70% of the attendees the event was the primary reason for visiting Savannah and that for 86% of the attendees the event was influential or very influential toward their trip decision. Why do any of these numbers matter?

Festivals and events going on locally bring outsiders into the area. It is a chance for Savannah to market to a new demographic and potentially bring visitors in for more trips in the future. In addition, these visitors could market the events to their friends and family potentially influencing their decision on where to go next. The local economy benefits from the overnight travelers with guests staying in the Historic District and close to the airport. If guests are staying with family and friends in the area, that money could be seen more in the restaurants and specific events held by the festival. Some of the more popular events, like the Taste of Savannah, give visitors a better chance at experiencing the festival without having to worry about getting a ticket. As the popularity grows, the potential for more events and sheer size of the festival will only grow. So far, it has proved to continue bringing in new visitors.

Below are links to the 2014 and 2013 Savannah Food and Wine Festival reports. For more information regarding this study or other reports contact jsalazar@uscb.edu.

http://www.lriti.org/2014_Savannah_Food_and_Wine_Festival.pdf

http://www.lriti.org/2013_Savannah_Food_and_Wine_Festival.pdf

It's official: Social media is used by Hilton Head Island visitors who attend festivals

by Lowcountry and Resort Islands Tourism Institute on 11/13/14

This blog was written by Ms. Kelli Brunson, a University of South Carolina Beaufort (USCB) student studying Hospitality Management. She is also a Research Assistant for USCB's Lowcountry and Resort Islands Tourism Institute (LRITI). 

For today’s world, something is not official unless you have posted it on some type of social media. The world is consumed with social media, and most people use it every day. While the majority of people use it to keep everyone updated with their lives, businesses use social media to promote their businesses or events. For those businesses interested in reaching a different target market, social media is one way to gain new customers.

At the 2014 Hilton Head Island Burgers and Brew Festival, Hospitality students from the University of South Carolina Beaufort administered a survey for the event which included a question concerning social media. According to the 107 visitor respondents (visitors are considered those who live outside a fifty mile radius), Facebook, Google+, and YouTube are ranked as the top three social media platforms used daily. Facebook is used daily by 50% of visitors, Google+ is used daily by 39% of visitors, and YouTube is used daily by 25% of visitors. Social media platforms such as Vine, Tumblr, and MySpace were at the bottom of the list for social media usage for visitors. Vine was ranked third from the bottom with 4%, Tumblr with 1%, and MySpace with 0%.

It is obvious that social media is something that people use on a daily basis.  Businesses benefit by using the company’s page to promote their products and/or services. Consequently, when designing a marketing plan, businesses may need to spend more time crafting their social media platforms rather than primarily relying upon traditional word of mouth. Social media is something that will be expanding for many years to come, and it will only benefit businesses if used correctly.

Below is a link to the "The 2014 Hilton Head Island Burgers and Brew" report depicting additional survey results from the festival. For more information regarding the study or other reports contact jsalazar@uscb.edu.

http://www.lriti.org/2014_Burgers_and_Brew_October_8.pdf

Hilton Head Island Ecotourism and the Ecotraveler: A Study by USCB Research Assistant Catherine Moorman

by Lowcountry and Resort Islands Tourism Institute on 10/18/14

This blog was written by Ms. Catherine Moorman, a University of South Carolina Beaufort (USCB) student studying Hospitality Management. She is also a Research Assistant for USCB's Lowcountry and Resort Islands Tourism Institute (LRITI). 

Tourism is one of South Carolina’s top revenue sources and employers. South Carolina collects $17.6 Billion from tourism – $1.2 Billion coming from the Lowcountry region, while also creating 13,000 jobs within the Lowcountry. The tourism segment that has been growing exponentially since the 1990s is ecotourism. Academic researchers state that a goal of ecotourism is to minimize tourism’s negative impacts while maximizing tourism’s positive impacts. Examples of local ecotourism operators include: Outside Hilton Head, Zipline Hilton Head, Vagabond Cruises, Harbourtown Adventures, and H2O Sports. These business as well as other ecotourism activities are an important draw for Hilton Head Island visitors. 

The ecotraveler is in search of an authentic and complex learning activity as part of a leisure experience. In the recent Hilton Head Island Visitor Profile Study (conducted by USCB and in collaboration with the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Visitor and Convention Bureau), 49% of visitors surveyed stated that the diversity of ecotourism activities were either important or very important when choosing a Hilton Head Island as their vacation destination, and 46% said that destinations that are sensitive to their environmental/ecological surroundings were either important or very important when deciding to visit the Island.

As the tourism industry moves into the shoulder and off seasons, tourism operators should consider capitalizing on the appealing fall and mild winter temperatures and encourage our visitors to enjoy our non-beach related natural experiences and activities. Linking your products and services to outdoor recreation and ecotourism activities can help maintain revenues through spring. Additionally, visitors that enjoy exploring our marshes by kayak or hike our nature trails in the upcoming months may decide on returning to visit to our beaches in the summer when the warmer water temperatures return.

Below is a link to the "The 2014 Hilton Head Island Tourism Summit: Our Industry, Our Visitors" report depicting additional results from the 2013-14 Hilton Head Island Visitor Profile Study. For more information regarding the study or other reports contact jsalazar@uscb.edu.



Don’t Worry, Be Happy: A Study by USCB Research Assistant Kelli Brunson

by Lowcountry and Resort Islands Tourism Institute on 04/22/14

This blog was written by Ms. Kelli Brunson, a University of South Carolina Beaufort (USCB) student studying Hospitality Management. She is also a Research Assistant for USCB's Lowcountry and Resort Islands Tourism Institute (LRITI). 

There is something about reading other tourist’s past travel experiences to a destination that makes potential future travelers feel comfortable about visiting that same destination. So how do people know that the Lowcountry is such an attractive, relaxing place to visit? In today’s time, it is easy to simply click a button and find many different travel review sites rating the Lowcountry area as one of the top destinations to visit. With travel review sites becoming more and more prevalent, travelers are able to see which destinations are worth visiting.

With the greater Hilton Head Island area being a nationally recognized destination, regional travel and tourism professionals need to be aware of how travel review sites impact an individual’s trip decision. Travel review sites have an impact on boosting visitors’ confidence, attracting more visitors to a destination, and raising revenue for local services. Our research shows how festival attendees at the 2013 Bluffton Arts and Seafood Festival use travel review sites in the trip planning process.

To collect this data, USCB's Lowcountry and Resort Islands Tourism Institute (LRITI) asked 603 festival attendees to determine their level of agreement (i.e., strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree, strongly disagree) with six statements that focused on how they used travel review sites. The statements were:
  • I often read other tourists' online travel reviews to know what destinations make good impressions on others.
  • To make sure I choose the right destination, I often read other tourists' online travel reviews.
  • I often consult other tourists' online travel reviews to help choose an attractive destination.
  • I frequently gather information from tourists' online travel reviews before I travel to a certain destination.
  • If I don't read tourists' online travel reviews when I travel to a destination, I worry about my decision.
  • When I travel to a destination, tourists' online travel reviews make me confident in traveling to the destination.
Out of the 603 responses, 66.5% of respondents gathered information from online travel reviews about their destination before traveling, 33.1% worried about their decision to visit a destination if they did not use travel review sites, but 57.8% agreed that reading travel review sites make them confident in traveling to their destination. This means that travelers do rely on other’s opinions when it comes to visiting a new place.

With 91.1% of the respondents using travel review sites to help them choose an attractive destination, one can quickly assume that these travelers are pretty confident in what activities they choose to participate in once they get to their destination. In fact, 69.4% of respondents stated that they often read travel reviews in order to see what destinations make a good impression on others, and 70.3% of respondents read travel reviews to make sure they choose the right destination.

In order for travel review sites to work, people who are worried about their decision to travel to a destination need to take advantage of these sites and read the different travel reviews. Also, the travel review sites need to have people who will truly give their honest opinion about the destination. Lastly, more than one opinion is needed about the location, so that travelers can see all sides of the destination. It is the responsibility of the owners and operators of Lowcountry tourism businesses to ensure that they have a presence on these sites and respond to the complaints, comments and criticism posted to them. With other people’s opinions of activities, travelers can be assured of their decision to travel to a certain place.

Residents and visitors share the same Bluffton space by Dr. John Salazar

by Lowcountry and Resort Islands Tourism Institute on 07/31/13

What is the value of developing a community brand? A brand helps differentiate a community among many other communities competing to attract future residents, new businesses and visitors.

Researchers from the University of South Carolina Beaufort (USCB) and University of South Carolina (USC) are collaborating on a research project wherein the results will provide baseline information to establish a Town of Bluffton brand campaign. The project is also in partnership with the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce and the Town of Bluffton. The first phase of the research started with the team leading focus group sessions in June and July.

Through branding, communities may attractively position themselves in the marketplace to encourage people to relocate families, businesses, and even visit. In 2013, the US Census listed 1,249 metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas within the US. According to the US Census, “A metro area contains a core urban area of 50,000 or more population, and a micro area contains an urban core of at least 10,000 (but less than 50,000) population.” Both metro and micro communities can cross county boundaries. A strong positive brand position will single out the Bluffton community’s competitive advantage among the other 1,248 US communities.

One of the first stages in attempting to understand how to brand Bluffton is to investigate how residents and visitors experience the community. Preliminary data from the USCB portion of June and July focus groups indicated that Bluffton residents mostly experience the charm and history of the Old Town, are passionate about maintaining its integrity, and enjoy exploring its unique offerings. Similarly, the USCB 2012-13 Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Virtual Guestbook research also showed that visitors to our community have comparable experiences whereas almost 55% of our tourists spent time in Old Town, 34% dined in our restaurants, 33% attended the Farmer’s Market, and 17% visited the May River. The virtual guestbook research also revealed that 76% of visitors said that Bluffton’s history was an important factor when deciding to visit our community, while 69% identified dining and 67% identified shopping as important.

The two research projects affirm that both residents and visitors share and value the same community space. Understanding how both populations experience the community is a great first step to understanding how people value our unique town and provides foundational information that can be used to help establish Bluffton’s competitive advantage.

This research will continue the through the fall and the team hopes that many more Bluffton residents will participate in the larger community survey that will be distributed in the upcoming months. The community feedback is extremely important and will contribute greatly toward establishing Bluffton’s brand.

Below is a link to the 2013 listing of metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas and 2012-13 Hilton Head Island/Bluffton Virtual Guestbook results. For more information regarding the Bluffton Branding study or other reports contact jsalazar@uscb.edu.

http://www.census.gov/population/metro/data/def.html

http://www.lriti.org/2012-2013_USCB_Virtual_Guestbook_Results.pdf