City seeks to balance needs of tourism, residents

The city began work in December 2013 to rewrite its tourism management plan.

Charleston had about 2,550 hotel rooms 20 years ago. By 2013, that number had increased to about 3,600.

The city is now looking at another 1,500 guest rooms in the development pipeline.

Those numbers not only reflect the thriving local hospitality industry, they also underscore why the city needed to update its tourism management strategy for the first time in 17 years, supporters of the newly adopted plan told the business community Wednesday.

The tricky task of balancing a growing number of visitors to the peninsula with the everyday needs of residents who live and work on that landlocked space was the topic of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce’s latest “Business in Your Backyard” event. It was held Wednesday at the Holiday Alumni Center for The Citadel.

Charleston City Council passed the new tourism management plan in May.

Kitty Robinson, the head of Historic Charleston Foundation who chairs the tourism advisory committee, went over some of the key recommendations, which she said include “a comprehensive traffic and parking study” as well as “an annual public review of tourism management.”

She also shared some concerns from the public. Based on a survey, people are worried about the downtown visitor industry growing too fast and creating too much congestion.

City leaders, with the help of the 27-member committee that included Mayor Joe Riley, began work in December 2013 to rewrite the plan for the 21st century.

Tourism is big business in Charleston. Visitors make up 16 percent of the city’s economy, planning director Tim Keane has said. Robinson noted the number of visitors in Charleston over the past two decades increased about 70 percent.

And the industry continues to grow.

The newly adopted 136-page plan addresses: tourism management and enforcement, visitor orientation, quality of life, special events, and mobility and transportation.

“Every recommendation — and there’s close to 100 — every recommendation has a timeline and an assignment,” said Bob Seidler, who was on a subcommittee that looked at the quality-of-life concerns.

Charleston Metro Chamber CEO Bryan Derreberry said afterward that those concerns and others concerning the impact of tourism on the peninsula are “natural” given the industry’s growth.

“It’s not surprising and therefore these types of studies are so significant because they can help us manage it effectively,” Derreberry said after the event.

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