By TIM RONALDSON
The state’s Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism says that South Carolina is “Made for Vacation.” After spending money to spread that word up and down the eastern United States, it found that other people agreed, too.
“We’re pleased with the results,” said Beverly Shelley, director of sales and marketing for the Department. “We definitely want to do everything that we can to help our partners deliver the South Carolina brand message and their message as well. Our research has always shown us that the people who have seen the state’s advertising are more likely to visit the state than those who have not.”
Last year, the Department launched its new “Made for Vacation” advertising campaign that targeted primary and secondary markets in cities east of the Mississippi River, including targeted spots at shopping malls in Atlanta, Philadelphia and outside Washington, D.C. They spent $628,000 developing the campaign and had a $5.1 million paid media budget for television, print and digital placement, Shelley said. The advertising highlighted every aspect the state’s tourism, including separate spots dedicated to golf.
By using a research vendor, the Department was able to cull data through the use of an advertising awareness study. The study found that 36 percent of traveling households east of the Mississippi reported recalling one or more of their advertising pieces. Those who recalled seeing the ads – what Shelley dubbed “ad aware households” – were twice as likely to travel to South Carolina. In addition, the ad aware households spent approximately $1,061 while in the state compared to $960 for households that didn’t see the advertising.
Within the golf market, 62 percent of households east of the Mississippi were “ad aware,” and 30 percent of those visited the state, as opposed to only 19 percent for households that didn’t see the advertising.
“In other words, if you saw the advertising, you were more likely to visit,” Shelley said.
For their efforts, the Department was honored with the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International’s Gold Award. The campaign also won Addy awards from the American Advertising Federation in Greenville and will soon be competing for awards at a higher level within the organization.
“We’ve been pleased with the response we’ve gotten,” Shelley said. “The whole goal is to get people to engage with us, either by requesting our visitor’s guide, by signing up for one of our newsletters, by joining us on Facebook and letting us communicate with them. We have multiple channels in which we’re trying to connect with potential visitors.”
As part of the advertising campaign, the Department re-designed its Web site, www.discoversouthcarolina.com. In addition to producing e-newsletters and offering information on the state, the Web site features a South Carolina Insider program, where state residents highlight different components of tourism such as food, golf and leisure. That section of the site, Shelley said, is the most popular, with 7,700 visits in January of this year alone.
In 2010, the Department received about 138,000 requests for its printed visitors guide and had 58,339 views of the guide online. Visitors spent about six minutes flipping through the guide online, signifying that they are actually interested in its contents and not just clicking and leaving, Shelley said. Other positive signs for the state’s tourism industry was an uptick in accommodations tax revenue. Between Fiscal Year 2008-2009 and 2009-2010, the tax revenue increased 2.8 percent, Shelley said.
The state’s hotel occupancy rate was up 6.6 percent for the calendar year of 2010, and the revenue per available room also increased 5.7 percent.
For this year, the Department is continuing its Made for Vacation campaign, minus the spots in the regional malls. It has a paid media budget of $4.7 million, and its primary target markets are Atlanta, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Orlando, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Charlotte. In addition, it will also target Nashville as a secondary spot because of the addition of Southwest Airlines to airports in Greenville and Charleston.
The target audience for the general campaign is the female decision maker in a household with a median income of $75,000. The secondary target market, for golfing, is a male audience between the ages of 35 to 64 with a median household income of $80,000, Shelley said.
This year’s campaign will also include a nice mixture of cooperative advertising, where the Department buys a certain amount of inventory on an online network and then re-sells some of it to corporate partners. This allows there to be a dual message – one being an overall state message and one highlighting a specific destination and price point.
“We have to try to do it smarter,” Shelley said. “What is that right mix of media with television, print and online? Online is important, but you can’t completely discount the value of television and you can’t discount the value of print. They each have a role.”
Anecdotally, Shelley said the tourism on the state’s coast – which was hit hardest by the economic downturn – are starting to feel good about the traffic they are seeing. She hopes that all the outside economic factors will continue to help move the state as a whole in a positive direction. Right now, she has her eye on rising gas prices, since two-thirds of visitors to the state are coming from Georgia, North Carolina and northern Florida.
“Gas prices will certainly play some role. As we’ve seen in the past, South Carolina is a drive destination,” Shelley said. “I don’t think people are going to quit traveling, but gas prices are going to remain one of those illusive factors that everyone is going to be watching.”