The leisure and hospitality industry employs nearly 48,000 people in the Upstate. That’s almost one in every nine jobs. Wages are 29% higher than pre-COVID levels, and Greenville saw a record-breaking 7 million visitors in 2022 — that’s enough people to fill the Bon Secours Wellness Arena more than 438 times.
One million of those visitors came through Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport and 68% visited from out of state. Greenville visitors spent more than $1.5 billion during their stays, generating more than $34 million in tax revenue.
As for the hospitality industry, last year’s hotel revenue countywide was more than $295 million, which is up 32% year-over-year. The 2022 average daily rate was $111, up 16% year-over-year.
So what does this data mean for locals?
VisitGreenvilleSC President and CEO Heath Dillard said in general, hospitality and tourism is talked about in terms of a financial gain for the city, however, the number of visitors directly correlates with how residents will have a better quality of life.
As the number of visitors increases, demand goes up for restaurants, retail and entertainment venues, which leads to a higher quality of amenities for locals to enjoy, he said. All of it pushes a better quality of life, wages and income for a large segment of Greenville’s population, he added.
“The hospitality and tourism industry are vitally important to the Greenville community for a number of reasons,” said Dillard. “In terms of direct impact, we see visitors spent more than a billion dollars, a huge influx of spending into the industry, in retail, hotel, sports and entertainment (and) restaurants, which supports a much higher level of business than our own community can sustain on its own.”
He said the ability to have A-list acts, Broadway shows, an exceptional culinary scene, arts and culture events like Artisphere, couldn’t be supported without the 7 million visitors and $1.5 billion in revenue they spend on a yearly basis.
Greenville has recovered from the pandemic faster than a lot of the metro areas around the country, said Dillard.
“However, in terms of business travel recovery specifically, we are optimistic that we aren’t finished growing,” he added.
For example, they want to attract larger conferences and conventions to the area.
“We have seen more development with our hotel inventory, which is still giving us exciting new products that are part of our destination benefits and even more over the next couple of years,” said Dillard. “We won’t take our foot off the gas pedal, because we want to remain competitive in the Southeast, growing Greenville’s voice as a travel destination.”
Although there are residential benefits for the influx of tourists, there may still be pushback for some who see problems rather than benefits.
In response, Dillard said VisitGreenvilleSC wants to have a seat at the table for how to manage the growth in a smart way.
“We want to grow but in the right way,” he said. “We believe the real engine of the industry is our people. We know the people who have helped create the success are oftentimes the ones squeezed out, like with transit and housing policy issues that affect our industry. But we have close relationships with our industry, labor and workforce, to advocate for employees and finding ways not to push further challenges on our community. We continue to say this week is a moment we pause and celebrate the people who work in our industry and want to thank them for coming to work every day and creating the experiences residents and visitors love, coming back again and again.”l