Monday, August 4, 2008

S.C. Gay Tourism: March 2005

Posted by Greg Hambrick on Mon, Aug 4, 2008 at 12:46 PM

South Carolina's weird allergy to GLBT tourist dollars is no surprise to anyone who's been paying attention. Post and Courier business writer Kyle Stock wrote about the topic more than three years ago in a story called, "Unwelcome Visitors?"

The story notes near the end that, "Publicly funded tourism promoters, like convention and visitors bureaus and the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, said they welcome gay visitors but don't have budgets big enough to spend money on ads in gay media. There are, however, a variety of state marketing campaigns focused on specific groups, including women, golfers, blacks and fishermen."

Some other nuggets:

Jim Bouldin, who bought the Market Street Inn with his wife, Diane, in November, didn't do much research on the size of the gay travel market before he jumped into the lodging industry as a transition to retirement. He just figured advertising on some gay-oriented Web sites would help set his business apart from other downtown lodgings, much as his pet-friendly policy does.

"We just know that they travel a lot," he said. "I'm not sure how to say this, but what do we care about their lifestyle? This being the 21st century, it's hard to imagine any hotel that would not be gay-friendly."

Bouldin said he is conservative and doesn't know anything about the Charleston gay scene, but he's had a handful of gay and lesbian guests at his five-room inn and each promised to spread the word.

"We had two women and their adopted child one night, and they were some of the best guests we've had," Bouldin said. "To us, business is business."


The Mobile Marriage in Mount Pleasant is another business that would benefit from more gay tourists. After more than a decade of performing traditional, nondenominational bridal services, the company started offering "commitment ceremonies" three years ago and advertising on gay-oriented Web sites.

Lin Lewis, owner of Mobile Marriage, said she performs only about five same-sex ceremonies a year, partly because she has not mentioned the services on her own Web site for fear of scaring off conservative customers.

"Obviously, as a businesswoman I feel the need to explore every market that's available to me," Lewis said. "My stand is that everyone has equal rights. It could well hurt my Christian business, but I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't stand up for what I believe in."


Charleston Rep. John Graham Altman III, a sponsor of the bill, said attracting gay visitors would hurt more Charleston businesses than it would help.

"I can't imagine a Baptist convention meeting at the same time as a homosexual one," Altman said. "I don't try to control what free enterprise does in its marketing, but Charleston may have an interest in making sure this type of thing doesn't happen."

Altman said he believes that the majority of South Carolina residents would agree with him.

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