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South Carolina's tourism industry has experienced record-breaking growth over the past six years, reaching $22.6 billion in 2018. File/Lauren Petracca/Staff.

Summer officially came to a close last week with the first day of fall. Americans are starting to enjoy the season’s most beloved activities like college football, tailgating, visiting pumpkin patches and admiring the fall foliage once again. South Carolina may be well-known for its summertime vacation appeal, but there are also many destinations to enjoy in the state year-round.

South Carolina is the perfect getaway for anyone who wants to enjoy a trip to the beach, hike mountain trails, spend an afternoon or evening at one of the many festivals happening across the state, or visit historic sites. It doesn’t matter where you travel in South Carolina. The state evokes an old Southern charm unmatched by any other destination.

Therefore, it should not be a surprise that South Carolina’s tourism has increased again, making a positive economic impact for the state. In the past six years, our state’s tourism industry experienced record-breaking growth and reached $22.6 billion last year.

But how does international inbound travel contribute to South Carolina’s tourism industry? Recently, British Airways launched seasonal service at Charleston International Airport that will increase international travel. The inaugural Charleston-London connection is South Carolina’s first nonstop transatlantic flight and is projected to contribute $20.2 million a year in economic impact.

Increasing international travel to South Carolina is a wise strategy. International visitors tend to stay longer, engage in more activities and leave a larger economic footprint. Brand USA, a public-private partnership, advances the strategy by marketing the United States to, through and beyond gateways to lucrative global travelers. It has partnered with seven South Carolina-based travel organizations including the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, the Hilton Head and Bluffton Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, and Explore Charleston. Brand USA has promoted several premier destinations in the state such as Murrells Inlet Marsh Walk and Charleston’s Tea Plantation to international travelers.

The best part about America’s destination marketing organization is that it performs these important functions at no expense to the U.S. taxpayer. Brand USA is funded by a $14 fee paid by foreign tourists through the Visa Waiver Program and matched by contributions from the private sector, which means South Carolina reaps all the benefits with zero cost to residents. This organization is also a major contributor to other cities’ economies across the country. Over the past six years, Brand USA’s efforts generated nearly 52,000 incremental jobs every year and created a $47.7 billion impact in the United States.

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But this beneficial private-public partnership must be reauthorized by Congress to continue delivering for our state and for the nation’s economy. Brand USA, which provides South Carolina with countless economic benefits at no cost to our taxpayers, is at risk of expiring. We urge members of our state congressional delegation and acting White House chief of staff — and former Palmetto State congressman — Mick Mulvaney to support the renewal of this valuable program.

Losing a program like Brand USA would hurt not only South Carolina’s economy but also the tens of thousands of employees who rely on tourism to support their families. As the fall season starts, and visitors enjoy our most beloved cities, it’s important to think about how we can strengthen a major driver of our state’s economy.

Helen Hill is the CEO of Explore Charleston.