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Carolinas work to lure visitors off beaten path

By Bruce Smith
Associated Press

Tourism officials in both Carolinas are working to get visitors down roads less traveled this summer.

A $2.5 million spring advertising campaign touting “Undiscovered South Carolina” is already showing positive results, said Duane Parrish, director of the state’s tourism department.

And North Carolina’s Project 543 website showcases attractions, many in small towns, in the 543-mile width of the state from Manteo on the Outer Banks to Murphy in the mountains of the west.

Tourism is a $19.4 billion industry in North Carolina and a $16.5 billion industry in South Carolina.

Parrish said the thinking behind the South Carolina campaign is that while major costal and larger cities have marketing money, state money could help boost tourism in rural areas.

The aim is to bring visitors to such places as the Colonial Dorchester state historic site in Summerville, where visitors can do hands-on archaeological work, and small towns such as Conway, with its river walk and historic district.

“Our May tourism figures show the first impact of that,” Parrish said. “Our revenue per available room in the state was up 7 percent – one of our biggest one-month jumps. Weather played a part, but I think our ‘Undiscovered’ campaign also played a part. When I look at the numbers from rural areas, I can see the influence.”

In North Carolina, the Project 543 website went online late last year as an inexpensive way to augment an ongoing tourism campaign. It lists 543 destinations, some in every county, offering experiences that generally can’t be found elsewhere, said Wit Tuttell, the state’s director of tourism marketing.

“We’re trying to get visitors to make a deeper connection to North Carolina,” he said. “We’re trying to get them to stay a bit longer and to see something new and experience something unique.”

The attractions range from Emerald Hollow Mine in Alexander County, the only site in the country where visitors can mine for their own emeralds, to Calabash, the seaside hamlet that gave its name to the technique of cooking seafood with cornmeal batter.

Near Wilmington, at the Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson state historic site, visitors can walk through centuries of history. It has the remains of a church burned by the British and remaining ramparts of a Confederate fort built to guard the coast.

“There are a lot of things people can do in North Carolina; we wanted the 543 to be really distinctive to our portion of the Southeast,” Tuttell said, noting that the state’s main tourism site has 18,000 listings.

He said that with modern communications and the Internet, “the world has gotten a lot more connected and people have been to a lot more places. We want to focus on places where there are things you can’t do somewhere else.”

Parrish agrees.

“The outdoor component is important, with its fishing and hunting and golf and horseback riding and boating,” he said. “People are tied to the computer and the Internet and the handheld at home, and they feel locked down. This is a chance for us to promote people getting out there.”

Tuttell added: “A lot of these things we’re talking about are not expensive, and they are easy to do and get to. It gives the people an extra experience out of a trip and gets people to spend an extra day.”

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