Spartanburg Residence Inn

A 105-room Residence Inn opened in Spartanburg this year. The hotel is one of six Spartanburg County lodgings that either opened in the last year or is set to open in 2019. Provided. 

Some of the fastest hotel supply growth in South Carolina is unfolding far from the traditional tourism hotbeds of Charleston and Myrtle Beach. 

Spartanburg in the Upstate is seeing rapid development in its hospitality sector. 

Six hotels in Spartanburg County either opened in the last year or have opening dates set for 2019, according to the Spartanburg Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Combined, those properties are adding 744 guest rooms to a market that had about 3,300 rooms. That's an increase of about 23 percent over a two-year period.

In comparison, the Charleston area has about five times that number of total rooms — just over 17,000 as of this fall — and the market added about 667 hotel rooms in the last year. That rate put Charleston among the fastest-growing major markets for hotel supply this year, according to commercial real estate firm CBRE. 

Another Spartanburg-area hotel is expected to open up near the end of 2020, which will add an additional 119 rooms. That property will be one of eight Cambria lodgings recently built or in the pipeline in South Carolina. The first Palmetto State property for the upscale Choice Hotels celebrated its grand opening in Mount Pleasant in the fall. 

At the beginning of the wave of Spartanburg hotel development was the AC Hotel, a 114-room Marriott property that opened in December of last year. It was the first new lodging built in Spartanburg's business district in well over a decade and is the only AC Hotel in South Carolina. 

Trying to attract tourists to Spartanburg is a relatively new concept, said Chris Jennings, vice president of the local visitors bureau. The first tourism plan for the area was started about 10 years ago. 

"Before then, the community hadn't looked at tourism as a viable option," Jennings said.  

Over the past five years, Spartanburg's tourism industry has grown by about 9.4 percent a year, Bob Brookover, a professor for Clemson University's Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management, found in a recent analysis. 

Brookover also found that  tourists spent a record $278 million in Spartanburg County last year, almost $90 million more compared to five years ago. Of that, almost $60 million was spent on lodging. 

Jennings said the community is well aware that it's more often a stopover than a destination. But their goal, he said, is to extend that time which visitors spend in town. 

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The area's first tourist-facing advertisements played off the lack of knowledge people had about what was in Spartanburg. Now, several years later, Jennings said, they've changed the angle of many of their advertisements. 

"The tone went from, 'Spartanburg? What's there?' to, "Spartanburg — you know who we are. Why haven't you come to see us yet?'" Jennings said. 

In addition to leisure travelers, the market has also focused on attracting business conferences and sporting events.

For example, the Carolina Panthers hold their annual training camp at Spartanburg's Wofford College every summer, which boosts the city's hotel occupancy and visitor spending significantly. But that deal expires this year and may not be renewed because of the recent change in ownership at the Charlotte NFL franchise.

One particularly encouraging figure, Jennings said, is the steadily increasing length of visitors' stays during the Panthers' training camp. According to an analysis completed after this year's camp, visitors stayed an average of 3.5 nights, up from 1.9 in 2015.  

Reach Emily Williams at 843-937-5553. Follow her on Twitter @emilye_williams.

Emily Williams is a business reporter at The Post and Courier, covering tourism and employment. She also writes the Business Headlines newsletter, which is published twice a week. Before moving to Charleston, her byline appeared in The Boston Globe.