122117 Tourism: Town sees revenue rise even as ad buys drop
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The total eclipse in August gave a late-season boost to island tourism.

Tourism: Town sees revenue rise even as ad buys fall

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Tourism revenue grew for the town of Pawleys Island this year even though its tourism marketing committee spent only half of its annual budget. A last-minute push is planned to reach people online who use family gatherings over the holidays to plan their summer vacations.

“Regardless of not spending money on advertising, it seems to be healthy,” Town Administrator Ryan Fabbri said.

The marketing is handled by the town’s Accommodations Tax Advisory Committee with staff support from the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce. Committee members last week asked chamber staff to move ahead with ad spending budgeted for January. “We’ve got to plan our spending in November and December for January,” committee member David Teems said. “That’s very important.”

“The sooner the better,” committee member Betsy Altman said.

Jennifer Norman, the tourism development director for the chamber, said the online component of the 2018 budget would be the easiest to implement. It needs to be spent now, not in February, committee member Sassy Henry said.

The town’s marketing budget for 2017 has revenue of $114,306, but the committee spent less than $54,000. “They have a lot more money left to spend,” Fabbri said.

About $56,000 left unspent from 2017 will carry forward to the new year’s budget, but that wasn’t included in a draft presented to the committee for approval. In addition, Fabbri said the committee can expect an increase in revenue from the portion of the state’s accommodation tax that the law requires the town to spend on tourism marketing.

“They will have to meet again to revise the budget,” Fabbri said.

The draft includes ads in Carolina Living magazine, Garden and Gun, Southbound (a part of Atlanta magazine) and various regional editions of AAA World magazine. Print ads total nearly $64,000. Online and social media spending is just over $27,000.

But Norman told the committee the breakdown is misleading because the lines have blurred between print and online media. Garden and Gun spending is actually for its online media. “Print for Garden and Gun is so expensive, so incredibly expensive,” she said.

The committee agreed to spend $7,500 of its 2017 budget on a public relations campaign with an Atlanta-based firm. Laurie Rowe Communications will create and pitch stories about the island to travel media. The town hasn’t had a PR element in its marketing before.

Mayor Jimmy Braswell suggested one story that the town will need to promote will be about the beach, once a proposed renourishment project is complete. The town plans to get bids on the work in the winter.

“People don’t have an idea how much sand we’re talking about,” Fabbri said. “You won’t see the groins for a year.”

The current estimate is for 725,000 cubic yards of offshore sand to be pumped onto 2.7 miles of beach south of First Street at a cost of $11.8 million.

Once that’s completed and the beach is wider at high tide “everyone’s going to want it to stay that way,” Fabbri said.

The work is vital to tourism on the island, committee member Bill Caughman said. “If they can’t put a chair out on the beach, they’re not coming to Pawleys Island.”

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