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Source/Credit: College of Charleston School of Business Office of Tourism Analysis
A total of 481 thousand visitors came to Bluffton in 2021. The overall economic impact of this tourism for Beaufort County was $187.31 million. This economic impact represents not just the direct expenditure by visitors, but also the secondary ripple effects of such economic activity that occur as tourism businesses spend operating funds and as tourism dollars are re-spent within the region. Bluffton tourism also (directly and indirectly) supported an estimated 2,782 jobs, which represent 2.6% of all jobs in Beaufort County, as per employment data provided by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
The survey results below were conducted by OFFICE OF TOURISM ANALYSIS SCHOOL OF BUSINESS COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON.
THOSE WHO TRAVELED TO BLUFFTON
The top reasons for choosing Bluffton as a destination included visiting beaches, visiting heritage attractions/museums/historic tours, and spending time with family. Other popular motivations included relaxation, boating/sailing/kayaking, and nature-based activities. The activities in which visitors actually participated are similar to the previously mentioned activities, and also include shopping, culinary, and health/wellness. Amongst Bluffton’s overnight visitors, 75% were first-time visitors, suggesting that the destination continues to appeal to new visitors.
The average group size of those surveyed was 4.5 for overnight visitors and 3.8 for day trip visitors. The main mode of transportation to town was personal/family car (45.8% overnight; 67.9% day trip). About 40.9% of overnight visitors flew to Bluffton via commercial flights, with just over one-third of them (34.2%) landing at the Hilton Head Island Airport.
The average length of stay for those overnight visitors surveyed was approximately 4.0 nights. Hotels were the most popular choice of accommodation for overnight visitors (33.1%), followed by resorts (25.9%), staying with friends/relatives (20.5%), and home/villa rentals (18.1%).
Airbnb was the most popular online booking platform for villas/homes (27.6%), followed by HomeAway (13.8%), local vacation rental companies (10.3%), and the local resorts’ online booking platforms (10.3%). The top five other destinations visitors considered before choosing Bluffton were the Hawaiian Islands; the Alabama Golf Trail; Gulf Shores, AL; Isle of Palms, SC; and Orlando, FL.
Top reasons for choosing to visit Bluffton were wanting to visit a beach destination (32.6%), word-of-mouth recommendation (29.0%), previous visit experience (28.0%), and wanting to visit nature-based attractions (23.3%).
Of those surveyed, 85.8% indicated an intention to return to visit Bluffton.
Of those who indicated not to have traveled at all or not to have traveled to the Hilton Head Island / Bluffton area in the past 12 months (N=860), just 38.6% had never visited the Hilton Head Island / Bluffton area before, and 48.8% had visited 1-5 times before.
Of those non-visitors, 37.6% traveled elsewhere, 2.9% found it too expensive, 2.0% mentioned health reasons, 2.0% were hesitant because of unpredictable weather events, 1.5% did not travel at all, and 0.9% did not find what they were looking for. Over 26% stated the COVID-19 pandemic kept them from visiting the Hilton Head Island / Bluffton area. Of those who did not visit the Hilton Head Island / Bluffton area, alternative destinations in the Southeast (26.9%) and Midwest (10.5%) were the most popular. Nonetheless, 49% of the non-visitors indicated they had plans to visit the Hilton Head Island / Bluffton area within one year.
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