Pandemic's negative impact on tourism is less locally than for state as a whole, statistics show

·2 min read

Aug. 5—Tourism in Aiken County has a significant impact on the economy, and that continued to be the case when the COVID-19 pandemic began affecting South Carolina two years ago.

Visitors spent $154.42 million here in 2020, said Jessica Campbell, who is the City of Aiken's director of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, during an Aiken Chamber of Commerce breakfast Friday at Newberry Hall.

The amount was down 19.8% from the total of $192.46 million total in 2019, but "we actually fared better than the state as a whole," Campbell said.

Tourists spent 30.7% less in South Carolina in 2020 than they did in 2019.

Also in 2020, spending by visitors to Aiken County generated $15.5 million in state sales tax revenue and $7.12 million local sales tax revenue that helped support government services.

Without that money, Campbell said, each household in Aiken County would have had to pay $331 in additional taxes to maintain the same level of government services.

In addition, Campbell reported that 1,630 people in Aiken County had tourism-related jobs in 2020. Their earnings totaled $36.3 million.

The City of Aiken's budget for its Visit Aiken marketing initiative was $279,000 two years ago, when the pandemic "created a lot of change in consumer traveling," Campbell said.

"People were visiting rural areas and drive-thru destinations," she continued, "and they were participating in more outdoor activities."

During that challenging period, each dollar invested by the City of Aiken to promote tourism had an economic impact of $550, Campbell said, based on a calculation that included the more than $150 million spent by visitors to Aiken County.

As for the future of the tourism locally, it's looking brighter.

"We are seeing the trends and numbers starting to go up, so we're excited as we move into the remainder of 2022 and 2023," Campbell said.

Another speaker during the Aiken Chamber of Commerce's First Friday Means Business breakfast event was the City of Aiken's new tourism manager, Eric Gordon.

A former resident of New York who has lived in Aiken since 2020, Gordon replaced Samantha Radford.

She left the City of Aiken's staff to become the communications director for Cedar Creek Church, which has campuses in Batesburg-Leesville, Graniteville and Aiken.

Among the topics Gordon discussed was a strategic plan that includes a City of Aiken/Aiken County tourism marketing partnership.

It would explore "how can we work closer together, and how can we complement each other and not just do the same thing," said Gordon, who started job as tourism manager Aug. 1.

The creation of an integrated visitor experience is one of the partnership's goals.