South Carolina tourism reports strong recovery in 2021 at annual conference

February 7, 2022

Greenville, S.C. – Tourism in South Carolina saw a strong rebound in 2021, according to figures released today by the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism (SCPRT).

During his annual “State of the Tourism Industry” address at the South Carolina Governor’s Conference on Tourism & Travel at the Hyatt Regency in Greenville, SCPRT director Duane Parrish shared statistics and stories about what the industry experienced in 2021.

After seeing a slow and steady start in January and February, by June 2021, key tourism metrics like hotel occupancy and revenue began to surpass the record levels South Carolina achieved in 2019. The year finished with a 32.8% increase in statewide hotel occupancy compared to 2020, and down only 5.3% compared to 2019. Hotel revenue per available room was 75% higher than 2020 and 4% higher than 2019.

“These metrics tell a great story of South Carolina’s tourism recovery in 2021,” Parrish said. “They tell us that we have regained much of the economic ground that was lost in the first year of the pandemic – but they also tell us that we still have work to do. They tell us that we all must continue our efforts to achieve a full economic recovery to make our state’s tourism industry whole again.”

Statistics show that South Carolina recovered faster than neighboring states in the first six months of 2021, seeing greater gains in hotel occupancy than North Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Director Parrish attributed that success to a number of factors, including: the $20 million investment the state made to fuel SCPRT’s tourism recovery marketing in late 2020 - early 2021, which drove nearly $1 billion in hotel revenue; the quality and variety of travel experiences South Carolina offers; how quickly the state’s industry adapted to the “new normal”; and dedicated marketing efforts led by tourism leaders at our local and regional levels.

Director Parrish reminded the audience of tourism professionals from across the state that the competition to attract visitors to South Carolina will only increase moving forward. “In 2021 we got off to a great start, but we can’t let off the gas now because – trust me – our competition isn’t going to let up either.”

To help show the status of our recovery, SCPRT unveiled a Road to Recovery data sheet at the conference to show our 2021 results compared to 2020 and 2019 levels.

Along with our continued recovery, another challenge SCPRT is focused on in 2022 is the staffing shortages facing the hospitality and tourism industry. At a general session on Wednesday, Erin Francis-Cummings, President & CEO of Destination Analysts, will share the results of a study on the attitudes and perceptions of working in South Carolina’s hospitality industry compared to national results. Director Parrish also announced that SCPRT will partner with the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association to create a workforce development and training initiative to help address this issue.

Director Parrish also announced a few other projects and highlights to look forward to in 2022, and in the years to come:

  • SCPRT is partnering with the US Civil Rights Trail to increase consumer awareness of Civil Rights attractions and sites in the state. We’re also partnering with WeGOJA (formerly known as the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission) to develop a Civil Rights podcast series that will launch in May 2022.
  • SCPRT is partnering with tourism regions to promote the important role South Carolina played in the American Revolution as the Sestercentennial approaches, to encourage residents and visitors alike to explore our arsenal of Rev War experiences.
  • SCPRT looks forward to opening new state parks in the coming years, including the linear park along the Black River in Georgetown and Williamsburg counties, May Forest on Fort Johnson in Charleston, Pine Island on Lake Murray in Lexington, Ramsey Grove Plantation in Georgetown, and Misty Lake in Aiken.
  • The state’s golf metrics are reaching the highest levels seen in a decade, after South Carolina hosted the RBC Heritage in Hilton Head, the Palmetto Championship at Congaree, the BMW Charity Pro Am, and the PGA Championship in Kiawah in 2021. We look forward to seeing that positive trend continue.
  • SCPRT looks forward to welcoming international visitors back to South Carolina as those markets slowly recover. We are partnering with Travel South USA and Brand USA to optimize our advertising effectiveness, and preparing to increase our investment in international marketing when the time is right.

Greenville native Congressman William Timmons, representing South Carolina’s fourth district in the US House of Representatives, welcomed the audience of tourism professionals and commended them on the success the industry has achieved amid the challenges of the past two years.

The Governor’s Conference on Tourism & Travel continues in Greenville until Wednesday, February 9. The conference wraps up Wednesday afternoon with remarks from Governor Henry McMaster and an annual awards luncheon to honor excellence in the tourism industry.

For more information, contact Sam Queen at sam@scprt.com or 803-767-3568.

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Need more information?   Sam Queen
Director of Corporate Communications
SC Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism
1205 Pendleton Street, Columbia, SC 29201
Sam@scprt.com | 803-734-1779
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