Grand Strand business leaders Statehouse bound

Columbia, SC - COLUMBIA, SC (WMBF) - Grand Strand business leaders are in Columbia Wednesday to take part in the annual Hospitality Day at the Statehouse. The event is designed to be a networking opportunity and a show of solidarity by the South Carolina hospitality industry.

Stephen Greene, the CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Hospitality Association, says this is a big day for the tourism industry.

"We have other legislative trips and receptions and things that various businesses put on," Greene explained, "But in relation specifically to the hospitality industry, this is our day; this is our shining moment."

The goal of the trip is to talk with state lawmakers about the needs of the hospitality industry in the state, with tourism advertising and promotion money topping the list.

"Truly, tourism is an investment, not an expense," Greene said. "Every dollar we put into tourism we know we get a significant amount of return in South Carolina."

Greene says this is a great opportunity to remind the local delegation of the needs and how important tourism advertising is to the Grand Strand.

Over a smorgasbord of food served up by Palmetto State restaurants, industry leaders will have a chance to sit down with the state's decision makers.

"We have very few legislators who miss this day," Drunken Jacks CEO Al Hitchcock said. "It takes a good reason not to show up on hospitality day."

Drunk in' Jacks out of Murrells Inlet is just one of a number of restaurants around the state taking part in the annual event. Hitchcock has been going to Columbia for this event for years.

He says after serving up the food and having their voices heard, it is all about one thing: "Smiling faces. That would be the ultimate. That's our business."

Hitchcock says the Grand Strand has always been good about making sure legislators across the state understand the needs and concerns of people who work in the tourism industry.

"They are citizen lobbyists," said Rep. Thad Viers (R-Myrtle Beach). "They have a chance to dine not just with their representatives, but representatives across the state."

Viers says the event comes as a welcomed support for Grand Stand representatives' current efforts.

"It gives us back up, if you will," Viers said. "Everyone knows where the Horry County delegation is coming from, and when we have 80 of our friends that help us on the ground it makes it a lot easier to get things done for this area and the entire state."

Even though Stephen Greene says there are no specific bills this year that are particularly concerning for their industry, he says they cannot afford to walk into the shadows when so many competing interest are fighting for money from the upcoming budget. That's why officials decided to make the state's matching grant for tourism promotion their primary issue for the year.

"The budget is lean this year for the state of South Carolina," Greene noted. "One of the most important things we have is the two-for-one matching tourism advertising program."

Greene says that is where they put $2 in private money against every $1 from the state. Green notes leaders are concerned if the $5 million used to promote the state last year does not return, it may never come back.

"We think it has a significant return," Greed added. "There are two bills that are looking to have that in this year's budget and we just want to make sure that stays in there."

Another topic of interest for the group is how accommodations tax money is spent. Currently the way the law is written in South Carolina $1.4 million is taken from Myrtle Beach and given to the 11 poorest counties. There's some concern among Grand Strand leaders that those areas may not be putting the money back into the hospitality industry.

"There's so much gray area on how accommodations tax can be utilized," Greene explained.

Other issues that they expect to take center stage include unemployment insurance, the SC air service incentive and development fund, tort reform, and secret ballot legislation.

Hospitality leaders from Myrtle Beach are expected to arrive in Columbia around 10:30 a.m. to set in on the General Assembly session. They expect to be back in Myrtle Beach at 5 p.m.

Myrtle Beach will be well represented by local restaurant participation: Bonefish Grill, Carrabba's Italian Grill, Drunken Jack's Restaurant & Lounge, Outback Steakhouse, Ruth's Chris Steak House and Wild Wing Café.

Copyright 2010 WMBF News. All rights reserved.