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

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

The RBC Heritage continues to help Hilton Head Island, SC capture a valuable tourism market segment by Dr. John Salazar

by Lowcountry and Resort Islands Tourism Institute on 04/17/13

This week the golf and tourism industries are at the front and center of our regional economy. In 1969 Hilton Head Island, SC hosted the first Heritage Classic which is now referred to as the RBC Heritage. It is South Carolina’s only annually held tournament stop on the PGA tour. In 2010, a Clemson/University of South Carolina Beaufort (USCB) study indicated that the tournament had an $80 million plus impact on Beaufort County. Since the first tournament, Hilton Head Island has been inextricably linked to the golf tourism market.

So how do golf visitors compare to non golfers to the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton community? Through a partnership with the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, USCB’s Lowcountry and Resort Islands Tourism Institute (LRITI) has been able to conduct a preliminary comparison using the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Virtual Guestbook results. The virtual guestbook was implemented to collect real time data from visitors to the area between February 15, 2012 and February 15, 2013. The data collection method incorporated a convenience sampling technique that polled visitors at various attractions throughout Hilton Head Island and Bluffton, SC. Computer tablets were used as the guestbook polling stations.

The results showed that 69% (446) of the 646 entries were by visitors from outside the Hilton Head Island/Bluffton/Beaufort/Savannah region. The visitors were also asked about their spending patterns at various attractions and events throughout the community. Fourteen percent (14%) of the visitors indicated that they spent money on playing golf in addition to many other activities. Of the 14%, some interesting market segment details arose when comparing the golf playing visitors to the non-golf visitors in the following characteristics: number of previous trips to the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton region, length of stay, advanced booking, and total number of activities. The golf playing visitors have more previous visits to the area (3.7 previous visits), have a 6.7 day length of stay, book their trips 4.7 months in advance, and spend money on more activities (average 4.1 activities per trip). Whereas, the non-golf visitors previously vacationed in the area 2.9 times, have a 5.4 average length of stay, book 3.3 months in advance, and spend money on 3.1 activities per trip.

So what does all this mean? The research results show that the golf visitor is an important market to the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton tourism economy because they return to the region more often than non-golfers, stay longer, and spend money on more activities. Additionally, the golf visitors book their trips further in advance, therefore providing an early guarantee of their intent to travel to our destination. Declaring this early travel intent is good for tourism operators because it becomes an indicator of future business. In the end, the golf visitor market continues to be important to the community and the 45th 2013 RBC Heritage provides ongoing support toward reaching this important market segment.

Below is a link to the 2010 Heritage Golf Tournament Economic Impact Report. For information regarding other reports contact

The majority of visitors to Hilton Head Island, SC use Facebook and mobile technology by Dr. John Salazar

by Lowcountry and Resort Islands Tourism Institute on 04/12/13


Recently, Facebook announced the launch of Facebook Home. Facebook Home is designed to bring the social media experience to the smartphone users of Android operated phones. The Economist reports that “this matters because more and more folks are now accessing social networks from mobile devices rather than from desktop computers and because mobile advertising revenues are growing fast, albeit from a low base. Without a robust mobile presence, Facebook could see some of its users siphoned off by rivals born in the mobile era. And it could miss out on a potentially massive source of new revenue.”

So do visitors to Hilton Head Island, SC utilize social media and specifically Facebook? In fall 2012 University of South Carolina Beaufort’s (USCB) Lowcountry and Resort Islands Tourism Institute (LRITI) released the 2011-12 survey results examining the social media use of attendees at select Hilton Head Island festivals.  Sixty-three (63%) percent of the visitors attending those festivals used social media to stay in contact with friends and family members and 69% of those visitors utilized Facebook as their primary medium. For the 2012-13 festivals, 66% of visitors attending festivals used social media whereas 64% used Facebook. In a separate 2012-13 survey sponsored by the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, 78% of 628 tourists visiting Hilton Head Island-Bluffton attractions indicated that they used social media to stay in contact with friends and family, and 64% of those visitors using social media utilized Facebook as the medium. 

Well, do our visitors use mobile technology while traveling? And if so, what type of mobile technology do they use? For the 2012-13 Hilton Head Island festival research program, of the 1,127 total visitors surveyed at select events, 77% of the visitors indicated they use some form of mobile technology when traveling on vacation. Of those using mobile technology, 51% use an IPhone or Smartphone, 18% use laptops, and 13% use IPads or Tablets when gathering destination information where they’re vacationing. 

So what does all this mean? First it shows that the Facebook Home strategy may just work, but only time will tell about its adoption by smartphone users. Secondly, the LRITI research shows that social media and specifically Facebook are used by visitors to Hilton Head Island, and while traveling our visitors use IPhones or Smartphones. In the end it does demonstrate the need for tourism businesses to be actively engaged with their consumers by using social media and specifically Facebook. As the peak season nears, operators should be ramping up their social media campaigns to gain greater visitor market share in the upcoming months.

Below are links to the CNET and The Economist articles on the Facebook Home announcement. Additionally, the links to the LRITI Virtual Guestbook and festival research results are below. For information regarding other reports contact


2012 Bluffton Lodging Occupancy Beats 2011 by Dr. John Salazar

by Lowcountry and Resort Islands Tourism Institute on 03/29/13

Under an agreement with Smith Travel Research, University of South Carolina Beaufort’s (USCB) Lowcountry and Resort Islands Tourism Institute (LRITI) has been collecting and analyzing 2011, 2012, and 2013 lodging indices for Beaufort, Bluffton, and Hilton Head Island. The 2012 analysis of Bluffton lodging indicated that Bluffton hotels had 57.6% occupancy -- outperforming the 2012 South Carolina state average occupancy of 56.4% and a 9.5% improvement over 2011. The months showing the highest demand for Bluffton hotels were, in order, June (73%), April (66%), and March (64.6%). The months with the lowest demand were January (40.2%), December (45.8%), and February (48%). 

However, hotel managers often consider revenue per available room (RevPAR) a better indicator of hotel performance. RevPAR incorporates both room rates and occupancy and demonstrates how well a hotel is selling its rooms and how much it is able to charge for those rooms. Bluffton’s 2012 Year-End Average RevPAR was $51.49, just higher than the state’s RevPAR of $50.98. 

What did visitors do in Bluffton? In collaboration with the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, LRITI collected onsite visitor data at various attractions throughout Bluffton and Hilton Head Island. Data were collected via computer tablets where visitors were asked to complete a survey under the USCB Virtual Guestbook program. Data collection in The Virtual Guestbook began on February 15, 2012 and ended February 15, 2013, showing that of the visitors to Bluffton, 64% shopped at Tanger Outlets, 55% visited Old Town Bluffton, and 33% visited the Bluffton Farmer’s Market. The Virtual Guestbook results also showed that Historic Interests were Somewhat Important or Very Important to 76% of the Bluffton visitors, and Shopping was Somewhat Important or Very Important to 67% of the visitors.

So what does all this mean?  On average we’re getting more people to stay and play in Bluffton. The 2012 Smith Travel Research data shows that tourism is improving in Bluffton and is outpacing South Carolina. Additionally, the USCB Virtual Guestbook results show that shopping at Tanger Outlets, Old Town, and the Farmer’s Market are activities that visitors seek, and that History and Shopping are important when deciding to visit Bluffton. It also demonstrates that as April and June approach, tourism businesses have an opportunity to develop tactics to increase revenues in high demand months through collaborative marketing and advertising with Bluffton retail, Old Town businesses, and historic sites. Take advantage of the future potential revenues in April and June 2013.

Below is a link to the LRITI Virtual Guestbook results at For information regarding other reports contact

Mind the gap for 2013: What consumer indicators can reveal about future tourism demand by Dr. John Salazar

by Lowcountry and Resort Islands Tourism Institute on 01/14/13

Back in November 2012, economist Dr. Roger Beck wrote a guest blog for USCB’s Lowcountry and Resort Islands Tourism Institute. His recommendation to the tourism industry based on the possible income effects of the fiscal cliff was “know your market.” However, recent reports indicate that the industry will be impacted regardless of the partial cliff resolutions put forth by Washington DC. The January 12, 2013 article titled “Smaller Paychecks Likely to Affect Economic Growth in Myrtle Beach Area This Year” quoted economist Dr. Rob Salvino from Coastal Carolina University and wrote “Taking home fewer dollars will cause nearly everyone to pull back, including tourists -- whose visits and spending have been a bright spot during the economic downturn…. They are definitely going to have a direct hit to their discretionary income.”

Though the January 1st deadline fiscal cliff resolutions were partially met, it appears that the tourism industry will be impacted by the decisions made by US lawmakers. reported on January 10, 2013 that the Bloomberg “Consumer Comfort Index fell to minus 34.4 in the seven days ended Jan. 6 from minus 31.8 the prior period, the biggest one-week drop since August.” The three components that comprise the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index (personal finances, American’s views on the state of the economy, and buying climate index) all declined that period. Today’s January 14, 2013 article titled “Smaller Payday Trims Workers’ Splurges as U.S. Tax Breaks Expire” reports that researchers assert that the net pay reductions will impact consumer spending of “most of the 134 million Americans who are on corporate payrolls.”

So what does all this mean? Though the cliff has partially been averted, Dr. Beck’s recommendation is still highly valuable. Hospitality and tourism operators need to be fully aware of the visitors to our region, their points of origin, recreation interests, and retail demands. In fact, knowing that future travel can be impacted by consumer confidence and other leading economic indicators, the Lowcountry tourism industry has a window to modify marketing strategies, messaging tactics, and advertising to abate any future decline in business for the upcoming spring and summer tourist seasons.

USCB’s Lowcountry and Resort Islands Tourism Institute has conducted visitor point of origin analyses for both Hilton Head Island and the Town of Beaufort. The reports can be a great start toward understanding where our Lowcountry visitors reside. Additional reports at might provide extra insight on what our visitors do while in the Lowcountry and their social media usage. Those reports can be very helpful to all tourism related businesses. Acting now to ensure the spring and summer tourism season is successful is extremely important to all tourism operators.

Below are links to the Dr. Beck’s LRITI guest blog, the article, and the articles.