During the period 2002 to present, the Town of Hilton Head Island spent more than $23 million on tourism marketing, carried out by the Chamber of Commerce as the Designated Marketing Organization. Money well spent. Tourism has been a strong and resilient sector of the Island economy. In recent years tourism has contributed in excess of $1 Billion annually to the Island economy, and major corporations in the industry have seen fit to invest in new facilities and keep their offerings fresh. Without doubt ATAX/DMO tourism marketing has been a major factor in ensuring the success of this vital sector.
During the same period the Town has spent no money whatsoever to promote the residential and community sector of the Island economy. The lack of marketing to strengthen the Island’s position in the marketplace as a desirable location to open a business or buy a home is significant. A recent study (Salazar and Carey, 2018) found residential property values on the Island declined during the years 2002-2017, from 11% to 35% depending on the type and price range of the property. BestPlaces.net and Sperling’s Best Places report that home appreciation on Hilton Head Island was -2.0% over the last 10 years, while appreciation nationally was +28%. Equally important, some major plantations are experiencing marked reductions in permanent resident occupancy, now below 30% in some areas. This means that household incomes ($72,000 median) of numerous former full-time residents are being lost to the economy. Even now, while the rest of the nation has been experiencing an eight year housing boom, the Island has only recently (late 2017-2019) started to see an upswing. And the 2019 CharterOne Realty mid-year market report states that the median sales price of homes on Hilton Head Island dropped 1.4% from 2018 to 2019. Without doubt the absence of residential and community marketing has been a major factor contributing to theses adverse trends.
This dichotomy is hard to understand and threatens the future economic health of the Island. The residential and community sector is comprised of 33,000 housing units, 17,000 households, and contributes as much as $1.9 Billion to the economy every year. This is 80% larger than the tourism contribution. Allowing this vital sector to atrophy should no longer be tolerated.
What is needed is a marketing program that gets out the right messages—that Hilton Head Island is a special and unique community. A great place to live, work, and play. A place where one can raise a family and run a niche business. These messages need to be delivered on modern digital platforms and be guided by data tracking to tailor message elements and reach specific audiences.
Tourism marketing expenditures demonstrate that marketing to meet essential economic needs is a proper Town function. Residential and Community marketing needs to be recognized by Town leaders as essential to revitalizing and modernizing the Island economy. As such, Town leaders must commit to this needed initiative. Residential and community marketing needs to be emphasized in the Town’s developing Comprehensive Plan. Residential and Community marketing needs to be on the agenda for the Town’s December strategic retreat so that the Town Manager and Council can set the stage for necessary action. Residential and Community marketing needs to be put in place now to secure our future.