Nothing finer

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley discusses the increase in state tourism at a news conference Wednesday at Charles Towne Landing.

Against a backdrop of moss-draped oaks where Charleston was born, Gov. Nikki Haley praised the Holy City for earning its biggest tourism compliment to date while predicting the state’s hospitality business could return to pre-recession levels by mid-2014.

“We are seeing revenues up. We are seeing heads in beds up. We are seeing more golf play than ever before,” Haley said Wednesday at Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site. “We are seeing this beautiful state highlighted on a national and world stage, and we are shining.”

The governor pointed out that 2012 hotel occupancy is up. Also, state parks reported their best year ever last year, thanks to more visitors and higher fees, according to the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

Haley’s visit to the coast came one day after it was announced that readers of Conde Nast Traveler magazine selected Charleston as No. 1 tourist destination in the world for the first time, as well as naming it the top U.S. city for the second year in a row.

“We beat out Florence, Italy. We beat out Paris. We beat out Sydney,” Haley said. “We beat out all of these amazing places. What it should tell the people across South Carolina is you don’t need to go anywhere. It is right here.

“What it tells everybody across the world is if you haven’t been there, get there quick, and if you have been there, come back because people are still enjoying it.”

She also touted other parts of the state, noting that most rural areas remain undiscovered by tourists and that people should look outside major metropolitan areas for outdoor activities.

Haley credited the collaborative effort it took to save the RBC Heritage golf tournament on Hilton Head Island by securing new sponsors. Also, she noted that the 2012 PGA Championship on Kiawah Island in August was a major tourist event that exposed South Carolina to an international audience, she said.

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“It was a tremendous boost,” Haley said. “We got to see a $92 million economic impact from the PGA and continue to get benefits from that.”

She mentioned the success of low-cost carriers Southwest Airlines, which started service in 2011 in Charleston and Greenville, and JetBlue Airways, which will begin service to New York and Boston from Charleston in February.

Both will help bring more tourism business to the state, she said.

The accolades keep piling up for South Carolina, said Duane Parrish, the state’s tourism director. Among the examples: Myrtle Beach has been named a top family vacation destination and Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia has been ranked as one of the top five zoos in the country.

“With all the recognition we have received in the past couple of years, it’s clear to me that South Carolina has not only established itself as a top travel destination domestically but also internationally,” Parrish said.