Monday, December 29, 2014

The power of branding: Bluffton, SC moves into Forbes list of top 25 places to retire

Last year our research center worked with marketing gurus Rawle Murdy on a new branding campaign for the cute little town of Bluffton in South Carolina. And the work we accomplished is already paying dividends. “Bluffton: Heart of the Lowcountry” has moved into the Forbes list of top 25 places to retire in the U.S. The list is based on housing and living costs, taxes, weather and air quality, crime rates, doctor availability, and active-lifestyle rankings for walkability, bicycling and volunteering. Forbes also looked at economic data with an eye toward a "working" retirement. But of course being the perfect place to retire means nothing if people don’t know about it – and that is where branding comes into play. You can read more about our branding project at And see the full Forbes list at:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Early season snow critical for ski resorts

I am up in the Canadian Rockies at the moment working on my new book ‘Winter Sport Tourism’ that will be coming out later this year. The resorts here have received plenty of early season snow. Practice runs for last week’s World Cup races at Lake Louise had to be cancelled because of too much snow. Contrast this to Europe, where the men's World Cup giant slalom and slalom races scheduled in Val d'Isere this week have been cancelled due to a lack of snow in the French Alps. Early season snow conditions and skier perception of these conditions greatly influence the momentum and success of the overall season. Demand is often the greatest at this time (over the New Year period in particular), so poor snow conditions can be expensive for resorts. A 2012 study by the American National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that the ski industry in the U.S. lost over $1 billion in aggregate revenue because of poor snow seasons between 2000 and 2010. Skiers and snowboarders can be a fickle bunch – it is hard enough to tempt them to get up to the mountains in the first place. In fact, in America only 4.3% of the population take to the mountains each winter. Compare this to the percentages in Switzerland (37%), Austria (36%) and Norway (25%). Easily the most important factor for skiers/snowboarders is the quality of snow conditions, with more than eight in 10 skiers indicating that this is extremely important or important to them in terms of destination selection. So let it snow!!!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Hotels finding new ways to cut through the clutter

Although hotel marketers have not as a rule incorporated product placement or branded entertainment into their marketing mix, there are a few examples of hotels that have successfully employed these marketing tactics to gain exposure and attract guests through the mediums of film, television or the Internet. A new article by Simon Hudson in Hotel Business Review identifies the critical success factors necessary for effective communications of this nature, taking a closer look at the use of product placement and branded entertainment by hotels. The article presents several examples of hotels that have partnered with producers of television, film and digital content to cut through the advertising clutter. These include the Atlantis Resort in The Bahamas (Casino Royale, After the Sunset, Newlyweds and Meet The Parents); the Plaza Hotel in New York (Home Alone II: Lost in New York, Arthur and North By Northwest); the Hyatt in Aruba (The Greatest Movie Ever Sold); and Aria Hotel, Las Vegas (Last Vegas). The full article is at:

Friday, October 31, 2014

SmartState Center Report Wins Prestige National Award

The SmartState Center’s report on the Bluffton branding project has won a 2014 American Graphic Design Award. Of the roughly 9,000 entries, just a handful of designs were selected as winners. The Center outsourced the design to Two Monkeys Graphic Design, a Columbia-based company run by Sherry Simmons. Sherry said: "I really appreciated this tremendous opportunity that the Center gave me to create something special for promoting Bluffton, SC. It is truly a great honor, to be chosen to design something for such a great area of South Carolina, while working with the SmartState Center.” Graphic Design USA (GDUSA) said the report “is, in a nutshell, exceptional.” The five decade-old competition is presented by GDUSA, the business-to-business magazine for creative professionals. The awards program honors the power of design to shape commerce, culture and communications across all media. Other winners this year included Adobe, Amazon, Duracell, General Motors, Kodak, Mattel and Nike. So the SmartState Center and Two Monkeys are among great company! To access the full report, click below:

Friday, October 24, 2014

Painting a picture of the future of travel: By Simon Hudson

I am currently writing an article about the top ten consumer trends influencing the future of travel. Number one on my list is the quest for learning and enrichment, and a growing trend in tourism today is for tourists to seek a learning experience as a part of the vacation. A recent survey found that half of North American travelers want to visit art, architectural, or historic sites on vacations, while one-third would like to learn a new skill or activity. Today’s travelers are seeking experiences that provide them with a greater insight, increased understanding, and a personal connection to the people and places they visit. Rather than choose their vacation by the destination, many are first determining the experiences they want, and then choosing the destination where these experiences are located. Capitalizing on this trend is talented Dutch-Caribbean artist, Elisa Lejuez. Elisa is a prolific painter, and I was very fortunate this week to visit her home and gallery on Aruba to see some of her work. Her mega modern home in Noord, Aruba, is a perfect backdrop for her art and innovative wallpaper. As well as creating colorful multi-media, textured paintings, Elisa is a textile and clothing designer. Her art can be seen in galleries and hotels around Aruba including the Aruba Marriott and eco-resort, Bucuti & Tara as well as online ( And her clothing line is available in several boutiques and online ( A new project for Elisa is teaming up with a local tour operator to provide art lessons to holiday-makers. In November she joins a group of Aruban artists on a trip to New York City for a teaching seminar sponsored by the Aruba Tourism Authority. And, back home, she will offer private and group lessons from her studio throughout the year.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Aruba puts the spotlight on green: By Simon Hudson

I was invited to Aruba this week to speak at two conferences focused on the environment. The first conference, running from 21-22 October, is called Leading Sustainable Tourism in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the second, Green Aruba/Europe Meets the Americas Conference (GA-EMA) runs from October 23-25. Essentially I am covering three key topics in my presentations. The first topic will look at whether the ‘greening’ of tourism is consumer or industry-driven, the second relates to the challenges associated with going green, and the third will examine ways that the greening of tourism can influence other sectors of the economy. Aruba as an island is attempting to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels by moving alternative sources of energy, such as wind, solar and wave energy. The tourism industry on the island is also taking steps towards sustainability. One hotel owner in particular is making great strides to this end, having won numerous awards for green practices. Ewald Biemans is owner of Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts and is well know on the island for being an environmental preservation pioneer. His Eagle Beach property is the first resort in the Americas to be certified ISO 14001 – a classification that requires superior environmental management. I was fortunate enough to tour the property this week, and below I am pictured with Ewald, who is himself speaking at the Leading Sustainable Tourism conference. For more information on the resort’s environmental initiatives visit:

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

SmartState Welcomes International Tourism Expert

Dr. Ying Wang, international tourism expert and esteemed colleague, recently visited the University of South Carolina. Dr. Wang, is a Lecturer (equivalent to Assistant Professor in the US) with the Department of Tourism, Sport and Hotel Management at Griffith University, Australia. Her research interests lie in destination management and marketing, tourist experience and hotel management. Her work has appeared in internationally recognized journals including Annals of Tourism Research, Journal of Travel Research, International Journal of Hospitality Management, and Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Research.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Tourism Intelligence in Action

Dr. Hudson ran into well-known tourism guru, Jafar Jafari, last week in Lisbon. Jafar, founder of Annals of Tourism Research, is very much involved in creating a new international organization fully dedicated to knowledge transfer in tourism: Tourism Intelligence Forum (t-FORUM). The group has announced its inaugural conference. Called the t-FORUM 2015 Global Conference: Tourism Intelligence in Action, the conference is to be held in Naples, Italy, from 4 to 7 May 2015. Dr. Hudson plans to attend the event, since the focus of the conference is on knowledge transfer; linking and engaging destinations and tourism businesses with research and education institutions – exactly what the Smartstate Center for Tourism does in South Carolina.

Friday, October 3, 2014

SmartState Center Establishes Portuguese Connection

Dr. Hudson was in Lisbon Portugal this week establishing a relationship with the European University, part of the Laureate International Universities group. Pictured above is Dr. Hudson, shaking hands with Rector Tawfiq Rkibi, after signing a memorandum of understanding. “There are numerous ways that our institutions can work together,” said Dr. Hudson, “but we have already discussed engaging in collaborative research on golf tourism and accessible tourism. Golf tourism is critical to both South Carolina and Portugal, and we are both facing the challenges of serving an ageing traveling population.” Whilst he was visiting the European University, Dr. Hudson was invited by the Dean of Tourism & Hospitality, Antónia Correia, to deliver a lecture on golf tourism to students, faculty and industry practitioners. He is pictured below giving that seminar.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

From bankruptcy to thriving boutique hotel

When Lee Goossens purchased Wickwoods Country Club, Hotel & Spa in 2010 it was bankrupt and empty. It is now an idyllic weekend getaway for fitness enthusiasts, walkers and tennis players – and the hotel is also attracting both corporate and wedding guests. A new article in Hotel Business Review by Simon Hudson focuses on the advantages and the challenges facing boutique hotels in a market dominated by big brands – and highlights the interesting history of this unique English boutique hotel, showing how Goossens, with shrewd business acumen, an innovative investment plan, and a $2million renovation, has turned things around by responding to trends and focusing on quality and top-notch customer service. Read the full article at:

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Teaching, working, exploring: Dr. David Cárdenas is keeping busy in Aruba

Dr. Cardenas facilitating an evening session with industry leaders in Aruba
Dr.  Cárdenas is spending two months in Aruba as part a student/teacher international  exchange collaborative between the University of South Carolina and the University of Aruba. This great opportunity allows Dr.  Cárdenas to share his expertise with young and promising hospitality students. Dr.  Cárdenas teaches class every day from 9am-4pm, Monday through Friday. Classes are going well. The students are working hard and currently working with four companies on the island, helping them improve their tourism product and hopefully making their products more sustainable. This week,  Dr.  Cárdenas began evening seminar sessions with the tourism industry and began collecting industry data on knowledge, trust and power for a research project.  He is also helping one student with her thesis  focused on  the importance-performance of the road signage on the island. While his schedule is extremely rigorous, he still has time to engage in outdoor activities such as snorkeling, swimming, biking, and cheering on the gamecocks!

Upcoming Publications

In the of world of ‘publish or perish’ it is always nice to be able to announce upcoming publications, and I have three coming out soon that are particularly important to me for different reasons. Firstly, I have just had a paper accepted in Tourism Management, one of our top journals. The paper examines the influence of social media on customer relationships at music festivals. I am particularly proud of this paper, as it was co-authored with my son Rupert, a recent graduate of the Moore School of Business, who is now working in the music industry in New York. In addition, the paper will serve as a tribute to Tom Madden (former Moore School of Business Professor of Marketing), another co-author on the paper, who sadly passed away a few months ago.

A second paper of mine that will be published shortly in Anatolia: An International Journal of Tourism and Hospitality Research is a called ‘A Portrait to Brent Ritchie’. Brent was my Chair at the University of Calgary, and is undoubtedly one of tourism’s most eminent scholars. He retired this year, and so to be asked to write a portrait of Brent for a journal was a real honor, and is a small way of saying thank you to the best mentor a tourism academic could ever have. Brent has had a huge influence on my career.

Finally, I have just started writing a new book on the ski industry, nearly 15 year after publishing my first book on the subject called Snow Business. The industry has changed significantly in the last few decades: technology has had a huge impact on the sport and how it is enjoyed and marketed; demographic shifts have severely affected the customer profile; and climate change is impacting hills all over the world. Such dramatic changes require a fresh look at this exciting and dynamic industry, and I am really looking forward to working on this project over the next 12 months or so. The book, to be co-authored by my wife Louise, will be published by Goodfellow Publishers at the end of 2015.


Monday, September 8, 2014

‘Preying’ for tourists in the southeast? Not this year.

I was visiting Sea Island Resort in Georgia this weekend, where it has been a bumper summer for this classy resort that boasts four Forbes Five-Star experiences: The Cloister at Sea Island; The Lodge at Sea Island Golf Club; The Spa at Sea Island; and the Georgian Room restaurant. Service is really slick here, due in part to the charismatic leadership skills of James Gibson, a fellow Brit, and Director of Operations. Attention to detail is applied to every service encounter and even raptors are employed to enhance the dining experience for guests. Staff can often be seen (see picture above) walking around with a bird of prey on a gloved fist, the bird’s presence being a natural, and non-lethal means of disrupting the aggressive behavior of blackbirds who can be a nuisance while guest enjoy dining outside.

But Sea Island is not the only destination to enjoy record numbers of guests this year. Tourism has been buoyant elsewhere in the southeast, with hotel occupancy and average room rates up on last year in most resorts and hotels. A recovering economy and low gas prices have contributed to this increase, but of course we do offer excellent value for money and guaranteed sunshine! If you would like to hear more about tourism in this part of the world (from my point of view anyway), click on the Podcast link below:

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The World Tourism Cities: Market and Cooperation

Dr. Fang Meng: World Tourism Summit in Beijing, China
Dr. Fang Meng, is among one of distinguished guests participating in the 2014 World Tourism Cities Federation (WTCF) Beijing Fragrant Hills Tourism Summit being held in Beijing, China from September 4th and 5th, 2014. The focus of the summit is to promote cooperation between tourism cities and tourism operators around the world. These experts will exchange views and explore  challenges and opportunities for global tourism in the future. Dr. Meng is among one of the top leaders in this global tourism group and on the forefront of new and innovative ideas for the future of tourism!

Monday, August 11, 2014

South Carolina moves up the rankings of business-friendly states.

According to Chief Executive Magazine, South Carolina is now the fifth best state in the U.S. to run a business, moving up from its 2013 ranking of eighth. In their 10th annual survey, the magazine questioned over 500 CEOs across the U.S. asking them to grade states with which they were familiar on measures including tax and regulatory regime, the quality of the workforce, and the quality of the living environment. Texas continues its 10-year historical position as the best state overall; but Florida, which ranks No. 2, is edging up and even overtaking Texas in its quality of living environment. Tennessee edged out North Carolina to take third place with North and South Carolina respectively capturing 4th and 5th place.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Responding to ‘Think Aiken Think’

Dr. Hudson was a guest of Aiken South Carolina’s Chamber of Commerce yesterday, where he was acting as a ‘responder’ to a community leader’s think-tank called “Think Aiken Think”. The Chamber was looking for someone from outside the community but with a background in economic development and planning to come in and sum up the planning session. “My job was to listen to all the various group discussions and then give a summary based on what I had heard, reacting to the level of creativity and identifying common themes” said Hudson. Participants were asked to debate various topics including how to create a more progressive and future-oriented leadership, how to attract more investment and create jobs in Aiken, and how to improve and promote the quality of life in the city. “It is just great to see these rural communities in the state realizing that inaction is not a viable option if they genuinely want to improve local prosperity. So they are bringing leaders of the community together to create a vision for the future – such stakeholder engagement is a crucial step in the community development process.” Last year, Hudson’s team in the Center of Economic Excellence in Tourism conducted a similar project for the Town of Bluffton. Their report can be found at:

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Great customer service should be delivered with a compliment or two (or five).

Dr. Hudson was a guest of the Members Club at Woodcreek and WildeWood in Columbia this week delivering a customer service seminar to employees. As part of a general training day, Dr. Hudson was giving some tips on how to provide superior customer service. “It’s actually not that complex,” he said “But few organizations really get it right.” One of the problems, he says, is that many companies think they are providing good customer service, when, in actual fact, their customers are saying otherwise. Hudson refers to a recent study that found 80 percent of companies believe they deliver superior service to their customers, but only eight percent of their customers actually agreed! “It is refreshing to see an organization like Woodcreek & Wildewood recognizing the significance of customer service, and investing in their employees. Customer service training is often viewed as a cost rather than an investment, and even if companies recognize the importance of customer service, they don’t know how to deliver consistent, high quality customer service on an on-going basis.” One of Hudson’s tips on how to wow your customers: pay them a compliment. He refers to one study where hairstylists compared the tips they got when they complimented their customers versus when they did not compliment them. In the study, tips were significantly higher when the hairstylists used compliments. “Did you know the key to a successful relationship is to pay your partner a compliment five times a day?” says Hudson. There’s food for thought.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Hotels add health to the menu

An increasing number of hotels are responding to growing global demand for health and wellness and are catering to the physical and psychological needs of guests while promising enhanced wellbeing – benefits that visitors can take home when the holiday is over. A far cry from more traditional vacations spent lounging on a beach or poolside chair. Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHC), for example, created EVEN Hotels after conducting research that found there are 17 million travelers who want hotels to accommodate their healthy lifestyle needs. Westin hotels also recently launched a Well-Being Movement and even Las Vegas’s MGM Hotel has Stay-Well rooms.

A recent article by Simon Hudson published in Hotel Business Review focuses on this trend and spotlights certain hotels around the world and the specific services they are providing for the growing number of health-conscious visitors. The full article can be found at:

Monday, July 21, 2014

Santee Cooper Research Uncovers Yet Another of South Carolina's Hidden Treasures

Beautiful sunset in Santee Cooper Country
Kayaking, motorized boating, fishing, geocaching, hiking, bird watching and golfing are just some of the outdoor activities available along the Blue ways of Santee Cooper Country. Through  a project supported by Santee Cooper, Santee Cooper Country and University of South Carolina, the SmartState Center researchers are conducting a study examining  the development of opening up the waterway for tourism all the way from Columbia down to Charleston. The study aims to assess the current resources and potential tourism attractions, conduct a comparative analysis of similar waterways, measure the interest and demand for tourism along the waterway and examine the attitudes for future tourism development among the key stakeholders in the region. Through this research project, the team has had the pleasure to discover more of South Carolina's bounty of natural resources!

Drs. Hudson and Cardenas at the lock

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Can destinations attract tourists via branded entertainment?

I am ‘In Bruges’ this week presenting a paper at the Travel & Tourism Research Association annual conference. My paper is about America’s use of branded entertainment as a way of attracting international tourists. Branded entertainment is a relatively new term to describe a more contemporary, sophisticated use of product placement, and involves co-creation and collaboration between entertainment, media and brands. Although there are only a few examples of destinations employing branded entertainment as a communications tool, it has been acknowledged that placing a destination in a film or television is the ultimate in tourism product placement. Just witness the success of In Bruges. Tourists have been flocking to Bruges since the debut of the 2008 movie (despite the fact that it depicted a city full of contract killers, racist dwarfs and prostitutes), and I used the movie map yesterday to get around the beautiful city. 
But the resulting tourism from this film was more chance than actual marketing strategy, whereas the U.S. recently has been more proactive in using TV and film to attract tourists. Last year, Brand USA, the group that is spearheading the nation’s first global marketing effort to promote the US overseas, launched a website in London accepting confidential television ideas from producers. Following an external committee selection, entries were shortlisted to three, and the first program to be produced was Extreme Frontiers: USA, which was broadcast in the UK on Channel Five late in 2013. Produced by director Russ Malkin, owner of Big Earth, the four-part series followed well-known thrill-seeker and adventurer Charley Boorman, whose expedition began in Hawaii before he and Malkin travelled over 8,000 miles across 22 states. 

Brand USA developed a dedicated web page on their consumer website for the show featuring video excerpts from the series, photographs, and links to Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. On the website were also links to travel information and to the show’s own website. The program is currently being sold globally and will appear in over 90 territories, but as a result of the program being broadcast in the UK alone, EagleRider, an official sponsor of the show created an, ‘Extreme Frontiers Guided Tour’, of which they have already sold 60 packages.  

Building on this initiative, this April, the US Travel Association, in conjunction with Brand USA, launched a new broadcast/production program at the annual IPW conference in Chicago. This allowed broadcast and production media from the UK, Ireland and Australia to participate in face-to-face appointments with US travel and film organizations to find out more about filming in the US. Once again, the idea was to encourage producers to feature the US as a premier destination and leverage the new brand promise. In addition, Brand USA is spending $10m on an IMAX movie that will showcase the country’s national parks, and the group has also teamed up with National Geographic Travel on a digital campaign to showcase iconic road trips across America to international travelers.

What all this shows is that if destinations can think creatively and work closely with the film and television industries to facilitate production, they will capitalize on the subsequent exposure. Brand USA not only exploited the power of entertainment to promote the US as a travel destination, they supported the initiative with a promotional campaign around the brand integration, a tactic that has proved successful in the past with consumer brands.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Center intern meets with entrepreneur and economic expert

Chip Harriford, Always Fresh Farms, LLC and Daniel Beasley
On June 9th, 2014 , the Center welcomed a new intern, Daniel Beasley. Daniel is a promising young student from the Governor's School of Mathematics and Science who has interest in economic development and economic drivers, such as tourism. Daniel will intern with the Center for approximately 6 six weeks this summer. Daniel, from Florence SC,will be assisting with tourism and brand development projects in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina and the Santee -Cooper region of South Carolina.   He will also have the opportunity to interview and visit with local economic experts such as Chip Harriford, pictured above. Welcome, Daniel!

Monday, May 19, 2014

What do the beaches of South Carolina have in common with the new Porsche Macan?

Well, both were recently advertised in distinctive window displays at the world-famous Harrods store in London. As Harrods Media Director, Guy Cheston, says "Harrods' iconic exhibition windows are one of the most sought after and visited retail display areas in the world,” so it is refreshing to see marketers of South Carolina reach out to potential international travelers in such an innovative fashion. The initiative was partly funded by Brand USA, the organization established by the 2009 Travel Promotion Act to spearhead the nation’s first global marketing effort to promote the US as a premier travel destination. Brand USA is funded through a fee on tourists from the 37 countries whose citizens don’t require a visa to visit the US (called the Electronic System for Travel Authorization – ESTA - program). The organization is allowed to use up to $100 million a year, provided it obtains matching contributions from its private partners in the travel and tourism industry. In addition to the window displays, South Carolina was also promoted on the store’s multi-media video displays, in its 500,000 circulation publication, and on the side of its trademark green double decker buses. If you would like to know more about Brand USA, I published a white paper recently in the Journal of Destination Management & Marketing that digs a little deeper:

Thursday, May 1, 2014

ArtFields in Lake City Gathers Strength

I was in Lake City today where ArtFields was in full swing. The 10-day event is a celebration of all things creative, and features the largest art competition in the Southeast. Hundreds of artists compete for $100,000 in cash prizes, displaying their art in more than 50 downtown businesses, outdoor spaces and other venues. While I sat in the Downtown Bakery & Deli, people were wandering in off the wind-swept streets to view the spectacular art on the walls behind me – and if they wanted to, they could then vote for their favorite piece. Public votes factor into the top $50,000 prize, and a panel of visual art professionals name the $25,000 juried panel prize-winner.

The event is part of a larger effort to put Lake City on the map. When I first visited five years ago, there was barely a traffic signal to light up the city, but now crumbling buildings have been transformed into high-class restaurants, cafes, shops and museums, and a boutique hotel will be opening in the fall.  The Lake City Partnership Council is the key impetus behind this revitalization, with Darla Moore the catalyst supporting this economic development group that has invested generously in the rehabilitation of Lake City.  As a vehicle for economic revitalization, artistic expression, and community pride, Artfields itself attracts thousands of visitors, providing an estimated $5.4 million impact for Lake City community, and incalculable benefits for the merchants, artists, and citizens of the Pee Dee. More information about the festival can be found at

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Breaking through with tourism research

Dr. Hudson was presented with a prestigious award last week by the University of South Carolina’s Research Office. He was recognized as one of eight Breakthrough Leaders in Research university-wide. Recipients were given the award not only for their research contributions but also for their efforts above and beyond their funded research, such as community outreach and support of graduate students. Dr. Hudson is pictured below speaking at the Breakthrough Awards Dinner held at the Capital City Club in Columbia, SC on April 24. The evening celebrated the achievements of both USC’s Breakthrough Leadership in Research award recipients, and the Breakthrough Star award winners

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Raising Awareness to Benefit SC's Tourism Industry

(From left) Legislative Assistants Matthew Ellison (Rep. James Clyburn) , Deputy Chief of Staff Legislative Director Melissa Chandler Murphy (Rep. Joe Wilson), SmartState Endowed Chair Simon Hudson, and Legislative Assistant Jessica Phillips Tyson (Sen. Lindsey Graham) discuss tourism’s economic impact on South Carolina.

As tourism is a major economic driver in the state of South Carolina, responsible for supporting 1 in 10 jobs and generating a fiscal impact of $1.3 Billion in state and local tax revenues in 2013, the industry relies on the support of state and local leaders to build sustainable and strategic growth of the tourism industry. Above,  Dr. Hudson meets with the representatives of several key leaders to inform the lawmakers on industry needs and trends. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Like Father like Son

Dr. Hudson was in Denver this week attending the Great Western Travel & Tourism Research Association Conference. This morning, he presented a paper with his son Rupert, a senior in the International Business program at the Moore School of Business. The paper was about the use of social media in music festivals, the duo finding that social media has a significant affect on emotions and attachments to festival brands, and that social media-based relationships lead to desired marketing outcomes such as positive word of mouth. It has been an exciting week for Rupert. Not only was he presenting at a top academic conference, he also received an award at the annual USC Awards Day ceremony, started his own record label – Scenario Records, and was offered a job in New York with an up-and-coming music company called Gigit. His Dad of course taught him everything he knows.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Perfect Hotel Restaurant – and it's in Florence, South Carolina!

The bar in Victor's Bistro
 I am very fortunate to have traveled around the world with my job. But I very rarely eat in hotel restaurants. I find them quite bland and lacking in atmosphere, and I prefer to taste some of the local culture. So I usually venture outside of the hotel doors. But although hotel restaurants can get a bad rap from people like me, there has been a countervailing trend gathering strength over the last decade or so, and some of the hottest restaurants are now opening in hotels, proving to be destinations for locals and tourists alike. Spearheaded by topnotch hotel/restaurant partnerships in Las Vegas, hotels are recognizing that a lot of people travel for culinary reasons, and a great restaurant brand or a well-known chef not only promises a superior dining experience, it brings celebrity status to a hotel.

Imagine my surprise to find evidence of this trend last week in Florence South Carolina. I was there doing some research looking at the potential for tourism development in the Pee Dee region, and I was blown over with what I found. I stayed at the Hotel Florence, a relatively new boutique hotel in the revitalized downtown district. The 49-bedroom hotel is made up of three of Florence’s historical buildings that have been renovated to create one space of 35,500 sq. ft. The old Schofield Hardware structure is the main hotel building, which includes the hotel lobby, guestrooms, and the hotel restaurant Victor’s Bistro.

Victor’s has been an integral part of the Florence community for almost 15 years. Awarded “Best of the Pee Dee: Fine Dining” for the past 8 years, Victor’s is recognized as one of the area’s most upscale and elegant restaurants. Tim Norwood, a native of Darlington, South Carolina, purchased Victor’s Bistro in 2003. Tim graduated from Francis Marion University with a degree in political science, and has been an active member of the Florence community for many years.

The restaurant moved into the Hotel Florence last May, bringing with it a host of experienced personnel including Steve Gibson as General Manager and George Floyd as Operations Manager. The pair were headhunted from Columbia where they had both been working for many years in the fine dining sector. “It’s really exciting to be here,” says Gibson. “People here say they are looking for a lot out of us all. We’re supposed to be the best. We’re doing this by taking advice from guests and improving the experience for everybody.” With a background at Columbia’s trendy Motor Supply Company and Ruth’s Chris, Floyd came to Victor’s last March to help with the renovation and transition. “It’s been really neat the number of local people who’ve come in and said ‘Gosh, we’ve come into New York City!’” says Floyd. “But when people from New York and Boston and Chicago come in and say the same thing, that’s when it really hits home.”

With its upscale décor and ambiance, first-rate food, mellow musical entertainments and meticulous service, Victor’s and the Hotel Florence are the cornerstone of the downtown revitalization project. Can’t wait to see how the forward-focused area progresses!

The Sun Rises in the...South?

Sun Rising in Georgetown,SC
Everyone knows that the sun rises in the east but that does not prevent South Carolinians and visitors from enjoying beautiful views like in the picture above taken by Dr. David Cardenas. Dr. Cardenas is on a 2-day tour of  the Pee Dee Region of South Carolina for a branding project funded by the Economic Development Administration. Dr. Cardenas will be interviewing locals and gathering opinions from key stakeholders that will contribute to the project's research base.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Feeling Dizzy

Statue dedicated to Dizzy Gillespie in downtown Cheraw, SC
One of the most rewarding parts of working for the SmartState Center for Economic Excellence in Tourism and Economic Development is discovering all of the wonderful hidden treasures nestled away in the small towns of South Carolina. While conducting interviews today aimed at strengthening tourism in the Pee Dee Region of South Carolina, Dr. Cardenas discovered that Cheraw, SC is the home of Dizzy Gillespie. What a treat to visit the hometown of this bebop legend!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Final Report from Bluffton Branding Project Released

In May 2013, the town of Bluffton, located between big sisters Savannah, GA and Hilton Head Island, SC, embarked on a partnership with Rawl Murdy Associates of Charleston SC and USC Columbia/Beaufort to strengthen their tourism and economic presence in the Lowcountry through rebranding efforts that would distinguish them among their neighbors. With both a magnificent past and a magnificent future, the town wanted to capture the quaint small town feel of their community and highlight the town's economic development. The research team used mixed methods data collection methods. They conducted 36 in-depth key stakeholder interviews, facilitated 4 community Charettes with over 100 individuals in attendance and collected 624 surveys targeting visitors, residents, local leaders, business owners and potential business owners. The culmination of the data has led to the development of the Heart of the Lowcountry brand that will be viewed through a variety of media outlets including  radio, TV, social media, print and billboards. To access the full report, click below:

The Masters of Customer Service

It is Masters week in Augusta Georgia, and spectators from all over the world will experience top-notch customer service. And not just because we have over 500 of our students working there for the duration of the tournament. The strong customer service philosophy was instilled years ago by a man called Cliff Roberts. The tournament was conceived, nurtured and run for nearly forty years by Roberts, and more than three decades after his death, the Masters still operates as if he were at the controls. Customer service excellence was the guiding principal behind Robert’s perfectionism and his conception of almost every aspect of the club and the tournament. His practice of calling spectators ‘patrons’ was a reflection of his belief that the purpose of the club during Masters week was to serve the people whose support had made the tournament possible in the first place.

The Masters is still viewed almost universally as the best-run golf tournament in the world, if not the best-run sporting event, and it has maintained its standing without acquiring the modern trappings of success. Spectators can still buy lunch for half the price of any other tournament, because Roberts believed that anyone who had to travel hundreds of miles to watch a game of golf ought to be able to buy a decent meal at a decent price. Teams of uniformed workers constantly clean up after spectators because Roberts felt that litter detracted from the beauty of the course and the dignity of the event. In fact, the cups and sandwich bags are green, making them nearly invisible to television cameras – a major issue with Roberts. Members still wear their green coats all week, as they have done since 1937, because Roberts felt that knowledgeable sources of information ought to be easily identifiable to spectators in need of assistance.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Pearls of Wisdom

Dr. Hudson interviewing Pearl Fryar of Bishopville

Dr. Hudson interviewing Pearl Fryar at his Topiary Garden in Bishopville
A few years ago, we examined opportunities for tourism development in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina, and results showed limited brand recognition and a need for innovative marketing to increase awareness of the region as an attractive place to visit. So building on this previous work, the Center recently won an Economic Development Administration grant to establish a brand identity for the Pee Dee, a region plagued by high poverty and unemployment, low educational levels, and a high number of dislocated workers. The first stage of this research will focus on establishing the core values of the Pee Dee, and so the team has just started conducting interviews with key stakeholders and decision makers in the area.  

The first interviewee in this project was the charismatic Pearl Fryar from the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden in Bishopville. Pearl started work on his garden in the 1980s, and has since appeared in numerous television shows, including the documentary A Man named Pearl. Today, visitors come from all over the world to meet Pearl and to see his garden. “We had 15,000 visitors last year from as far away as Japan, Australia Germany, Sweden and the UK”.  For Pearl, the key to economic success is education. When Fryar gives a lecture to young people, he doesn't talk about pruning techniques or soil amendment. He'd rather urge people to use what they have and put their creativity to work -- lessons his garden taught him. "Don't allow some test score to determine where you go in life," he says. And, "If you're the smartest person in your circle of friends, you need to get smarter friends." For Pearl, the key to attracting more tourists to the Pee Dee is marketing. “We have the products – we just need to package them well. Improved signage on the highway would also go a long way to promoting our area” he says. To learn more about Pearl’s amazing work, go to
Pearl's topiary garden in Bishopville,SC

Friday, March 28, 2014

Local residents and business owners aim to enhance hospitality and tourism in Calhoun Falls, SC

Dr. Hudson guides participants in customer service training exercise

On March 28th, 2014, the SmartState Center, in partnership with the SC Great Outdoors, facilitated a day long hospitality/tourism customer service training and small business training in the town of Calhoun Falls, SC.  Dr. Simon Hudson and Dr. David Cárdenas traveled to Calhoun Falls and provided a research-based, highly interactive session to residents and business owners in the town. The aim of the training was to provide the participants with the  tools needed to grow their businesses and contribute to the community's destination brand.

Dr. Cardenas leads small business discussion with participants

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Working Spring Break in Curacao

Dr. Cárdenas with students at the ICUC
USC's HRTM and ICUC (Inter-Continental University of the Caribbean) are in the initial stages of developing a  long-term academic partnership.  As part of our partnership, Dr. Cárdenas was invited  to Curacao to teach a one-week intensive course during USC’s spring break from March 10th-14th, 2014.  The course was titled,'Destination Management and Marketing' and Dr. Cárdenas focused primarily on the topic of branding.  The  11 students met Monday-Friday from 9am-5pm. During the one week course students attend lectures, worked on case studies, conducted a small pilot study to develop a brand for the island, presented their brand, and took a comprehensive final exam.  Also, during the week , Dr. Cárdenas conducted three TV interviews and one newspaper interview. In the spirit of this new partnership, Dr. Robin Dipietro will  travel to Curacao to teach a course on Revenue Management in April 2014 and in June 2014, students from ICUC will spend 5 weeks in Columbia to participate in the HRTM program. 

Friday, February 28, 2014

Selling America to the World

Astonishingly, America has never embarked on a coordinated international campaign to sell itself to potential overseas visitors. But in response to a decade of stagnant visitor numbers, and a weakening brand image, America launched its first-ever branding initiative in 2012. Called Brand USA, marketers used key consumer insights gained from in-depth research to develop a campaign that focused on the diversity, pop culture, optimistic spirit and larger than life presence of the country, inviting visitors to see, hear and feel the US in a new way. Dr. Hudson has just published a paper in the Journal of Destination Management & Marketing that takes a closer look at this effort, providing valuable insight for both academics and practitioners into the process of branding a destination. The full paper can be found at:

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Gaffney not just a ‘House of Cards’

Dr. Hudson was in Gaffney today, home of Francis “Frank” Underwood from the critically acclaimed TV series House of Cards. The show (which is hugely popular in China of all places) stars Kevin Spacey as fictional U.S. congressman who represents South Carolina’s 5th congressional district. Gaffney, and The Peachoid, played a significant role in the third episode of House of Cards and may well help in attracting tourists. Dr. Hudson was in the city to conduct hospitality training in the picturesque Visitor Center & Art Gallery (pictured below), one of numerous substantial Victorian buildings in the city. Preserving its history, the City of Gaffney acquired a grant to purchase the historic “old post office” in 2009.  During its “renovation” project, City officials, staff and contractors quickly changed its plans to be that of a “restoration” project, unveiling numerous architectural and ornate features of the original construction of 1913. The hospitality training was facilitated by the SmartState Center, but organized by the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor, which received a rural Enterprise Business Grant from the United States Department of Agriculture.