High-tech tourists mean less visitor center traffic, Charleston-area officials say
Fewer people are going to Charleston and Mount Pleasant visitor centers this year, and officials believe iPhones and Androids are at least partly the reason.
In Charleston, the visitor center saw 425,417 tourists through July of this year compared with 442,550 the same time period last year, said Perrin Lawson, deputy director of the Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“It’s the proliferation of smartphones,” Lawson said.
In contrast, the Greater Summerville/Dorchester County Visitor Center has seen more tourists this year, a situation that may be related to a group of older, less technically oriented people drawn to the town, said Tina Zimmerman, tourism coordinator.
“It’s someone still wanting a map,” she said.
Through June of this year, 7,096 people checked in at the Summerville center compared with 5,860 visitors for the same time last year. Figures for July were not yet available, she said.
Despite fewer visitor center tourists in Charleston, ticket sales remain strong for attractions such as the South Carolina Aquarium and Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum. New ways are being explored to drive more tourists to the center on Meeting Street, Lawson said.
“We are looking at any and all methods,” Lawson said. He did not provide specifics, but said the Internet might be used in some way to make the visitor center the first stop for tourists.
One benefit of the reduction in center tourists is more one-on-one time with each visitor, he said.
Lawson said there is no smartphone app for the visitor center but a mobile version of the website is available. “We’ve got all sorts of social media,” he said.
The offerings include Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Flicker and YouTube.
“It’s basically catering to what visitors want. An informed visitor is a happy visitor,” he said.
On average, the center Web pages have well over 200,000 individual visitors each month. About 18 percent of the Internet traffic is from mobile devices, he said.
Some 900,000 people go to the Charleston Visitor Center each year, which represents about 25 percent of annual tourists, he said.
A trip to the visitor center has value because a staffer can provide information specific to visitor interests, he said.
Ian Lailee, 58, of Charlotte was at the visitor center on Thursday.
“We don’t know the city. Where’s the first place you go to when you don’t know the city? These people know where to send you. It’s a no-brainer,” he said.
His friend, Jaimie Sanjurjo, 61, of New York, said, “I got quite a bit of information online.”
In Mount Pleasant, 13,630 people went to the visitor center at Memorial Waterfront Park through July of this year. Last year, 16,107 visitors stopped there during the same time period, said Ashley Richardson, town community development and tourism officer.
She said the lower numbers reflect the impact of ongoing road construction on Johnnie Dodds Boulevard. The occupancy rate of Mount Pleasant hotels remains strong, she said.
Other factors include the amount of tourist information available online. “A lot of people are getting their information before they travel,” she said.
The Mount Pleasant Visitor Center numbers were part of a tourism activity report presented Thursday to the Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee. Edward Riggs, committee chairman, said he was not surprised that the visitor center numbers were down this year.
He said it reflects the road construction scheduled for completion at the end of the year. Another factor is the new location of the visitor center, which moved from Johnnie Dodds Boulevard to Memorial Waterfront Park in 2009, he said.
On the Grand Strand, tourists at the airport visitor center are down 20 percent from last year but at the two other locations the numbers are steady or above last year. The airport numbers are down because of fewer flights this year, officials said.
Statewide, 2 percent accommodations tax collections were up 15 percent through May of this year when compared to the same 12-month period last year. Collections were also up in the tri-county area. In Charleston County, the increase was 22 percent; in Berkeley County, 7 percent; and in Dorchester County, 4 percent.