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A Case Study: The Charleston Sternwheel Regatta’s Impact on Economic Development and Tourism

Reviving a once-beloved community event can breathe new life into your city, demonstrating the incredible potential of destination events to uplift both the local community and the tourism industry. The Charleston Sternwheel Regatta‘s revival serves as a shining example of how a community event can breathe new life into a city and reinvigorate its tourism industry. In this case study, we delve into the Regatta’s remarkable journey, highlighting the economic impact, strategic marketing, and lessons learned that have turned it into a transformative destination event.

After a long hiatus, the Charleston Sternwheel Regatta rekindled the city’s spirit and showcased the immense potential of destination events. Tim Brady, President & CEO of the Charleston Convention & Visitors Bureau, shed light on the Regatta’s remarkable journey and its far-reaching impact on both the community and the tourism industry.

Community Engagement and Regatta’s Revival

The Regatta held a special place in the hearts of Charleston residents. Current Mayor Amy Goodwin recognized the event’s immense community appeal, with many residents echoing the sentiment of “Bring back Regatta!” during her election campaign. Following the challenges posed by the pandemic, Mayor Goodwin saw the Regatta as an opportunity to reinvigorate the city with an outdoor event that would not only attract people but also foster a sense of positivity within the community.

Economic Impact Surpasses Expectations

One of the standout features of the Regatta’s comeback was its unprecedented economic impact. Massive attendance far exceeded even the most optimistic projections, and a significant portion of this attendance came from out-of-town visitors. These visitors weren’t just passing through; they were staying for multiple days, dining in local restaurants, booking accommodations, and contributing to the local economy in various ways.

Strategic Digital Marketing

After the 2022 event, the organizers had valuable data about where attendees came from. Leveraging this information, they invested in digital marketing in those specific areas, adhering to a “fish where the fish are” strategy. By focusing marketing efforts on regions that demonstrated strong visitation, such as Cleveland, they aimed to further boost attendance from those areas.

Quality Entertainment Drives Spending

The success was organic, driven in part by the high-quality entertainment lineup. By offering numerous choices and a wealth of outstanding, free performances, attendees felt more inclined to spend on accommodations. While concert tickets can be expensive, the allure of four nights of top-notch, free concerts created room in family budgets for hotel stays.

Supporting Local Jobs

The Regatta’s economic impact extended to a wide range of employment sectors, from hotel staff to waitstaff, bartenders, and convenience store workers. The tourism economy proved to be a vital source of support for various jobs in the area, underscoring its significance in the local community.

Growing Community Pride and Tourism

Measuring community pride’s impact can be challenging, but its effects are palpable. Positive feedback on social media, the excitement during concerts, and the visible enjoyment of attendees all contribute to building community pride. This, in turn, bolsters tourism because the number one reason people visit Charleston is to reunite with friends and family. When residents take pride in their city, they naturally become advocates for it, encouraging more visits from loved ones.

Success Begets Success

The Regatta’s initial success paved the way for more significant accomplishments in subsequent years. Data gathered from the first year informed and improved marketing decisions in subsequent iterations, demonstrating the value of learning from experience.

Lessons Learned and Key Takeaways

According to Brady, the Regatta’s success can be attributed to listening to residents’ desires and creating a collaborative, inclusive environment. Involving local businesses, non-profits, social clubs, and other community stakeholders made the event a collective effort, with everyone invested in its triumph. Brady also emphasized the importance of building a great team and committing to year two, acknowledging that initial success might take time but that valuable lessons can be learned along the way.

A Bright Future for the Regatta

As the Charleston Sternwheel Regatta heads into its third year and beyond, the commitment to data-driven decision-making remains steadfast. With the support of the community, local businesses, and dedicated organizers, the Regatta’s future looks promising, and its legacy as a transformative destination event continues to grow.

Rebecca Barnes

Rebecca aka DMO's Best Friend is the CEO of Imagine. With more than three decades of experience launching and operating award-winning companies, she gained invaluable insights into the intricate challenges that businesses encounter. Harnessing this expertise, she has build successful tourism marketing programs, initiatives, and campaigns for counties, cities, towns, venues, hotels, and captivating destinations. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her Grands, reading, traveling, and sleeping.

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