Charleston’s S.C. Aquarium launches tourism partnership program

Wild Blue Ropes on James Island is one of the businesses participating in the S.C. Aquarium’s tourism partnership program.

About a dozen local tourist ventures are referring business back and forth under a new marketing partnership.

“It’s a sales tool,” said Rou de Haas, senior group sales manager at the South Carolina Aquarium in downtown Charleston. “More importantly, it’s an upselling tool.”

The Concord Street visitor attraction spearheaded the reciprocal “Plan Your Best Day” initiative.

“We’re sort of the hub of the wagon wheel ... and the bookings go between us,” de Haas said.

He explained how it works by pointing to a tour operator or visitor who contacts the aquarium for a reservation.

“And while we have them on the phone ... that then gives us the opportunity to say, ‘Have you considered doing a carriage tour?’ ” he said.

All of the participants will be watching how it goes as the 2016 tourism season picks up, adding that they’d “like to expect growth over the next year or two,” de Haas said.

“It’s not something that is going to take off immediately, but when the correct season comes and when it’s front of mind for everybody, then it’ll definitely increase,” he said.

The participating businesses and attractions were invited, and each signed an agreement.

“We chose people who were not only respected and admired in the community. ... They had a complementary attraction to our own,” de Haas said.

The aquarium’s partners are: Adventure Harbor Tours; Boone Hall Plantation; Bulldog Tours; Charleston Convention and Group Services; Charleston Harbor Tours; Classic Carriage Works; Fort Sumter National Monument; Gray Line of Charleston; Magnolia Plantation and Gardens; Middleton Place; Nature Adventures Outfitters; Old South Carriage Co.; SpiritLine Cruises; and Wild Blue Ropes

“It just gives us another outlet for sales,” said Drew Yochum, director of sales and marketing at Charleston Harbor Tours, which operates the Carolina Belle tour boat.

He thinks the program will do well.

“I’m sure that it will be pretty successful once the busy season hits and maybe more into next year because a lot of these school groups and different operators are planning a little bit further in advance,” Yochum said.

Kris Canizares, sales manager and tour guide at Classic Carriage Works, also likes the idea.

“It brings together a wide variety of groups of people that do similar things but different aspects of tourism within the city and surrounding areas and just gets them into a good working relationship to where we can all kind of communicate with each other, kind of bounce ideas back and forth, and also share business,” he said.

Kathy Livingston, owner of Nature Adventures Outfitters, which offers kayak, paddleboat and hiking tours, thinks the cross-selling program will “bring much greater awareness to the aquarium and its conservation efforts.” That matches up nicely with some of her company’s core values, she said.

“It was just the perfect partnership for us because ... our whole mission in our company is to provide tours for the preservation of the environment,” Livingston said.

Hugh Corcoran, owner of Wild Blue Ropes, an outdoor adventure course on James Island, said the partnership could help show the area in a good light.

“I think it’s great because I think Charleston’s known for tourism,” he said.

Reach Allison Prang at 843-937-5705 or follow her on Twitter @AllisonPrang.