[image-1]The removal of the Confederate battle flag from Statehouse grounds in Columbia has proven beneficial for South Carolina’s booming tourism industry, according to a new study from the University of South Carolina’s SmartState Center of Economic Excellence in Tourism.

Researchers recently found that almost half of all out-of-state African-American travelers surveyed said that the flag’s removal increased their desire to visit the Palmetto State. These numbers are even more dramatic when taken into account that just a 5 percent increase in African-American visitors would result in an extra $118 million for the state. Altogether, African-American tourists have an economic impact of almost $2.4 billion in South Carolina.

Simon Hudson, director of the SmartState Center of Economic Excellence in Tourism, says he knew the flag’s presence had an effect on tourism when he first started examining the industry in South Carolina, but he was surprised by just how large that impact was on out-of-state visitors. Hudson points out that there is still much room for improvement in terms of attracting a diverse range of tourists to South Carolina, as the state must continue working to overcome the preconceived notions that many have of the area. The survey also found that half of all potential African-American visitors to South Carolina fear racial discrimination while in the state.

“We need to recognize that the fear of racial discrimination is real,” says Hudson. “As tourism providers, we need to better understand travelers from a diverse array of backgrounds and be able to cater to their particular interests and needs.”

According to Hudson, there is a growing potential for African-American tourist destinations in the state, but more investments need to be made to maintain and improve the conditions of these sites. More than 520 African-American tourism attractions — which researchers defined as cultural, historic, and religious sites, as well as festivals and events — have been catalogued throughout the state, but most of these sites are not well-maintained or promoted. In need of repairs and lacking updated technology, Hudson finds that many of these sites are located in economically depressed communities. While strengthening the statewide tourism industry, adequate funding and management of these sites could also serve to rejuvenate these neglected areas.

“We have a great deal of African-American tourism attractions, but there needs to be some real investment in these facilities,” says Hudson. “It’s not only about bringing in new tourists. It’s about investing in what South Carolina already has and building upon it.”