A $7.37 billion economic impact

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Pineapple Fountain | Photo by the CHStoday team

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Looking at the impact of tourism in the Greater Charleston Area

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it won’t come as a surprise to hear that Charleston is a top tourist destination. Having been named the number one city in the U.S. (+ Canada), and the number one city in the world, visitors flock here by the masses, developing a southern love affair that keeps them coming backwith their friends.

Now, before we receive an influx of emails complaining that these guests have overstayed their welcome, DYK that the tourism industry brought in an economic impact of $7.37 billion in 2017? Or that nearly 20.1% of sales throughout the Greater Charleston Area come from tourism?

In honor of National Tourism Day today, we’re breaking down how + from where people visit, touring the growth, and of course providing a few top attractions should you ever need to be reminded why Charleston is the place to visit.

By land, air, or sea

The Charleston International Airport has seen historic growth in the number of passengers traveling in 2018, with more than 15,000 travelers passing through the gates each day. To support the influx, the airport has added two new airlines + nonstop service to five new cities.

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Chart via the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce Forecast– 2017-2018

But– not all travelers like to fly. Every year since 2003, roughly 225,000 visitors enter the city streets through the downtown cruise terminal. The cruise port has become so popular, that next year Carnival will replace the Carnival Ecstasy with The Sunshine– a larger ship allowing Carnival to carry an additional 1,000 passengers.

So where are they all coming from?

The top origin states of visitors last year were North Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Virginia, New York, Texas, Ohio (hold the jokes, please), California, + Maryland. Whereas the top origin cities were New York, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Boston, + Baltimore. It looks like some big city dwellers are fixin’ for some southern charm, huh?

By the numbers

Each year, the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau crunches the numbers to compare stats from the past five years. From 2013 to 2017, almost every category increased, including the estimated number of visitors, the estimated economic impact, the estimated total labor earnings, lodging sales, + estimated total cost per adult.

A few highlights:

  • 6.9 million visitors came to the Greater Charleston Area in 2017, a 26% increase from 2016.
  • The economic impact in 2017 was $7.37 billion, a $3.15 billion increase over 2016.
  • 20.1% of sales can be attributed to tourism.
  • Total labor earnings due to tourism equated to $2.7 billion in 2017.
  • Visitors typically spend four nights in the Lowcountry, spending an average of $217 per adult, per day ($826 per adult, per trip).
CHStoday Expenditures

Chart courtesy of Office of Tourism Analysis, School of Business

  • Over 47,000 jobs are supported by visitor spending.
  • $904,090,000 was spent on lodging alone in 2017.
  • Even with the surge of hotels, plus the increase of available short-term rental units, average occupancy is 78%, with travelers typically paying $152/night.
  • Visitors head to Charleston for the historic sites, food, tours, shopping, beaches, business, + festivals/events.
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Chart via Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce Forecast– 2017-2018

When it comes to my relationship with Charleston, we’ve been kicking it since 1991, when a family vacation brought me to splash fountain. Once I dipped my toes there was no turning back.


Photo by CHStoday team

As for April, her Chucktown crush happened while taking a road trip down the coast. Now she is permanently parked on James Island.

If it’s been awhile since you played “tourist,” try spending a Saturday relishing in some of our greatest attractions. Be sure to share your local pics with #CHStoday.

Justine + April, Digital Intern

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