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LowcountryBizSC: A Conversation with Dan Carter, Executive Director, Edisto Chamber of Commerce

Dan Carter, Executive Director of the Edisto Chamber of Commerce talks about new marketing initiatives to bring visitors to the island year round.

What is your professional background?

Dan Carter:
I have been the Director of the Edisto Chamber of Commerce for the past 13 years. I have a Bachelor of Science from Clemson University.  After graduation, I worked for a few years in the textile industry and then for 23 years for John Harland Company, a printer in Atlanta that serviced the financial services industry.

What makes Edisto Island unique and special?

Dan Carter:
The unique aspect of the island is really associated with the laid back, pristine environment that we all live in.  It’s a much slower pace of life here on the island.  We refer to the island as a “coastal island destination, a state of mine, anytime, any season.”  Folks will describe a feeling they get as soon as they cross the bridge onto the island – they feel better and more relaxed.  That is really at the heart of what we have to offer.

In this day and time, families look for an opportunity to spend time together.  You hear all these stories about how our children and grandchildren spend all their time with video games.  To get them out in a boat, to take them crabbing or shrimping, or to just stroll with them down the beach, that can be a rare occurrence for a family that lives in an urban environment. At the root level, Edisto is a family oriented beach. You will see that reflected in all of our marketing pieces.  At lot of families have been coming here for generations.  They have enjoyed it so much that they bring their children and grandchildren.

Edisto offers an escape, an opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle of life. We don’t want to lose that feeling.  We laugh about it, but we often say that we don’t have a traffic light on the island…and we don’t want one.

Talk about the waterfront initiative that you have on the creek side of the island.

Dan Carter:
The marina and the marina restaurant are part of a bigger waterfront vision that we have here at Edisto, a major component of which is Bay Creek Park located right next to the restaurant.  Several years ago, the Town of Edisto Beach purchased this bit of land in order to preserve this waterfront property for the public. We have already hosted a number of successful festivals at Bay Creek Park.  It is truly a premiere spot; I doubt there are many spots like it on the East Coast.  Bay Creek Park is located at 3706 Dock Site Road and includes a fishing and crabbing dock, open space for picnics, an interpretive center and market open on Wednesdays.

How do you get people to come to Edisto Island in the off-season?

Dan Carter:
We currently have a big effort to draw people to the island during the off-season. By and large, June, July and August are popular without our having to do a lot of marketing, but historically, businesses have struggled during the off-season.  One of the very popular items that we’ve discovered that will bring folks down here is a shag dance. Every Labor Day weekend we host a shag festival. Based on the popularity of the shag fest, we have just decided to add a shag component to a shrimp festival that is held towards the end of September.  Those festivals are the hors d’oeuvres that we serve up for our visitors to the island.  We hope that they come back later on for the entrée and spend the night with us.

We have an active advertising and marketing program that we manage within the Chamber. We request and receive funding from the town through accommodation tax dollars.  That is what we use to fuel our marketing efforts.  We make our decisions then in terms of paid media.  We also have a lot of effort going on in terms of telling our story through earned media and through press releases.  We try to reach out to the demographic that we think will enjoy the Edisto experience, the type of people who value this type of environment and want to perpetuate it.

What is the government structure?

Dan Carter:
The incorporated Town of Edisto Beach is made up of a Mayor and four council members. They oversee the matters of the town and the zoning ordinances of the island.  Obviously, the lion’s share of the revenue is tourism.

We always have to be conscious of the budget and know that there will always be a need to watch our expenses.  On the revenue the key metric is the accommodation tax dollars that we collect.  That data is rolled up on a quarterly basis.  We benchmark ourselves against the state total. We did experience a dip in our revenues during the economic downturn, but our decline was not as much as the rest of state.

What are some of the other amenities that Edisto Island offers?

Dan Carter:
The island has a full array of services and from an accommodation standpoint we have anything from a small villa to a large home for big families.  We have 10 to 11 restaurants on the island with a full variety of different food choices. For those who want to prepare the food at their home or rental unit we have a great variety of roadside stands and markets that sell fresh produce and seafood.

Edisto has a very nice golf course that recently underwent an entire renovation. They stripped back the golf course to the base topography and then put in new fairways, greens, and cart paths etc.

We have a serpentarium out on the island that is very popular with children and tour groups. Botany Bay is a wildlife management area that is another jewel in our crown. It was a plantation that was deeded to the state of South Carolina and allows visitors the opportunity to see the pristine surrounding creeks and estuaries.  You can also see the spectacular Boneyard Beach where the maritime forest runs right down to the shoreline.

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