Charleston hotel exec is tourism pick

Daune Parrish

Charleston hotel industry veteran Duane Parrish will be going immediately from the front desk to the front nine as the state's next tourism chief.

Gov. Nikki Haley nominated Parrish Thursday to lead the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism in a move that fills the last of her Cabinet vacancies.

While Parrish still needs to be confirmed as director of PRT, his first order of business from Haley is already clear: Secure a corporate title sponsor to support the annual Heritage professional golf tournament on Hilton Head Island.

"She literally said ... 'You're the perfect person for the job and we need a sponsor for the Heritage at Hilton Head,' " Parrish said at a news conference Thursday.

The 25-year veteran of the tourism industry is chairman of the S.C. Hospitality Association and president of Premier Hospitality Group, a Charleston-based hotel development and management firm he founded in 2000.

Previously, Parrish held management positions with several major lodging companies, including Promus, Holiday Inn and Ramada. He has opened, operated or renovated 19 properties ranging from a 32-room independently owned inn to the 260-room Francis Marion Hotel in downtown Charleston. Also, he served a deputy director of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

A graduate of the University of South Carolina, Parrish is replacing Chad Prosser, an appointee of former Gov. Mark Sanford.

"What we looked for in a PRT director is someone from the private sector who knows the tourism industry, its players and, most importantly, that tourism is critical to economic development and job creation in our state," Haley said.

She went on to say Parrish "will work around the clock, seven days a week, to ensure South Carolina is the premier destination for tourists from around the country and around the world."

His first task is to line up a company to replace Verizon, which dropped its title sponsorship of the Heritage when it expired last year. That won't be easy given the sluggish economy and the fact that the tournament tees off April 18, less than three months away.

According to estimates, the title sponsorship will require an annual commitment of about $8 million.

Haley said she is opposed to the idea of using local or state tax dollars to support the 2011 event.

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"We don't want to do that," Haley said.

State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, noted that the tournament is a hospitality blockbuster that generates an extra $50 million in annual spending for the state.

"It will not be there if we don't have a Heritage," he said.

Davis also noted that the national television coverage of the four-day competition "is incalculable in terms of importance."

Reach John McDermott at 937-5572.