HTML tutorial

A Labor Of Love

By Brian Sherman for The Island Eye News

In late October, members of the Isle of Palms ATAX Committee voted to ask the IOP City Council to evaluate alternatives to sending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in state accommodations tax funds to help the Charleston Area Convention & Visitors Bureau market Charleston and its environs to potential visitors. One possibility might be to emulate the model established in 2004 by the city of Folly Beach, where a committee of local volunteers has control over how the money is spent. According to the CVB, it received $545,133 from the Isle of Palms in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2021, and only $42,200 from Folly Beach, which spent the remainder of what is known as the 30% fund to specifically market only Folly rather than the entire area. The money comes from the 2% tax the state charges on short-term rentals. Counties and municipalities can put the first $25,000 plus 5% in their general fund. The rest goes into two pots – 65% that must be used for tourism related activities and 30% that goes toward advertising and other methods of promoting tourism. Government entities must choose a destination marketing organization to handle this job. 

IOP chose the CVB, while Folly Beach created its own DMO – the Tourism and Visitor Promotion Committee. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2021, the Isle of Palms sent $733,416 to the CVB in four quarterly payments. The money Folly Beach’s Tourism and Visitor Promotion Committee pays the CVB is for membership and advertising, according to City Administrator Aaron Pope. Folly Beach had 917 shortterm rentals in August 2021, but that number doesn’t include all the renewals for the year, according to Zoning Administrator Katherine Gerling. The Isle of Palms has issued 1,474 short-term rental licenses, 751 of them inside the gates of Wild Dunes. “We still appreciate the relationship with the CVB, but this is an opportunity for us to focus on our own specific tourism needs,” said Ed Iames, who has served on the TVPC for the past three years. 

“That’s not to slight the CVB. They do a great job, but they are focused on the entire market.” Iames said the committee meets monthly and carefully studies potential areas to market Folly Beach, with help from Little Dog Agency of Mount Pleasant. “The committee does a lot of work. We look at the metrics for every market we advertise in,” Iames explained. “Little Dog is a great resource.” Iames said the TVPC sends the agency a retainer of $2,750 a month and also “pays them for lots of other stuff,” including research, creative work, building ads, maintaining the TVPC website and Facebook page, social media “and other promotional and marketing services.” Unlike the Charleston area CVB, which does a substantial amount of print advertising, the TVPC depends heavily on electronic media. Iames said the committee advertises in print publications only two or three times a year. “We’re looking for some good value in a really good publication,” Iames explained. The Folly Beach TVPC usually targets markets including Charlotte, New York City, Atlanta and cities in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Tennessee. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the committee concentrated on places that are only a couple of tanks of gas away from Folly Beach. 

“Because we’re local, we’re nimble,” Iames said. “We switched from markets that fly into Charleston to ‘two tank towns.’ We shifted our strategy rather quickly and changed the message to ‘Rather than working from home, why don’t you work from the beach?’” “We want to highlight some of the great attributes of Folly Beach and the wonderful treasures we have here,” Iames added. 

Iames said the TVPC makes a presentation to the City Council annually “to share our budget and our operating plan and strategies for the year.” He pointed out that Council members have the opportunity to ask questions and make recommendations and that “we don’t spend that budget until we have approval from the City Council.” Does the Folly Beach model represent a better and more efficient way for towns along the Carolina coast to spend their accommodations tax funds? That is a difficult question to answer, according to Iames. “There’s some evidence that it works. It gives us the opportunity for residents to take some accountability and responsibility for their own community and to be more involved,” Iames said. “The stuff we do is geared to Folly Beach. We’re very pleased with the numbers and growth of tourism for Folly Beach, compared to other places.” 

“It’s a lot of work, if you have the passion and energy to do it,” Iames added. “It’s a labor of love.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.