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 d├ęcor 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