UNION — A summit held in Union Friday involved discussion, promotion and touring of some of Upstate South Carolina’s “hidden gems.”
The Union County Tourism Commission hosted a second-annual Regional Tourism Summit on Friday at the Union County Advanced Technology Center (UCATC). Various cities and counties from around the Upstate were represented at the summit, and a number of local officials also attended, including members of the Union County Tourism Commission, Union County Development Board Executive Director Andrena Powell-Baker, City of Union Mayor Harold Thompson, city council member Yates Giles, county council member Frank Hart, Lockhart Mayor Ailene Ashe, and Carlisle Mayor Mary Ferguson-Glenn.
Tourism commission executive director Will Boyles said he was glad to have representatives from throughout the Upstate region under one roof to network and exchange information, giving updates about activities taking place in their respective counties.
“We have to market Union, but we’re not going to get there by ourselves,” Boyles said. “We have to market as a whole, too.”
The keynote speaker for the event — South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Director of Communications Marion Edmonds — echoed Boyles’ sentiments. Edmonds stressed the importance of partnerships, locally and throughout the state.
“One of the ways this thing called travel and tourism can be built at the regional and local level is the sort of thing you’re doing today — the key is partnerships,” Edmonds said, giving examples of businesses’ success stories which were dependent on partnerships with others.
Edmonds said all of the showcased “hidden gems” in Union should form partnerships and promote themselves collectively, thinking about amenities offered to improve quality of life on a day-to-day basis.
“It establishes a reputation for an area of offering things for people to come and do, and it’s providing an amenity for the residents to enjoy as well.”
Kathy Jo Lancaster, UCATC Director, also spoke to those in attendance about the facility, which was the site of the Regional Tourism Summit on Friday as well as in 2012. Lancaster explained the $4.7 million training facility was completed in 2009 as result of a collaborative partnership between Union County, the City of Union, USC Union and Spartanburg Community College. She said the target audiences are job seekers of all ages, dislocated workers and incumbent workers. Lancaster also pointed out the economic need for the facility due to a high unemployment rate, a need for a county-based technical college to train or retrain residents, and the shortage of trained/skilled workers to compete in high-tech industries and to recruit new business/industry to the area.
Presenters spoke about tourism-related activities — government-, civic group-, and citizen-driven — and the steps taken to facilitate those activities. Presenters included Sonja Burris of the Rock Hill/York County CVB (Convention and Visitors Bureau), Pam Foxx of the Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Elaine Harris of Pacolet, Jayne Scarborough of the Olde English District Commission, and Greg Parker of First Community Development.
Following the summit, participants boarded a tour bus which first took them to lunch at Midway Barbecue, and later, on a guided tour of Union County’s “hidden gems.” The group toured sites including Timken Sports Complex, Nicholson Mansion, River Chase Golf Club, the Cross Keys House, Rose Hill, Union County Dragway, The Inn at Merridun, and Union County Museum. Boyles said there were people on the bus who were well informed and could answer questions about the sites for the out-of-towners.
“Everybody enjoyed seeing what Union has to offer,” Boyles said, adding that he received positive feedback from both returning visitors and new faces.
Boyles said one participant told him the summit “recharged his battery” and that he was excited to return to his own community to look at tourism from a new perspective.
Boyles said the tourism commission plans for the summit to be an annual event, changing the theme each year to coincide with the newest strategies and hot topics regarding tourism.
Staff Writer Derik Vanderford can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 29, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.