South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s decision to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds in Columbia has given the Palmetto State a much-needed tourism boost.
A new study out of the University of South Carolina’s SmartState Center of Economic Excellence in Tourism found that more than half of out-of-state Black travelers said their desire to visit the state increased when the controversial flag came down.
According to the analysis, a 5 percent increase in tourism among African-Americans would produce $118 million in extra revenue for the state. As a whole, Black tourists tout an economic impact of roughly $2.4 billion just in the state of South Carolina.
There’s still much room for improvement, however, as state leaders work to dispel negative preconceived notions about the area. For instance, researchers found that for almost half of all prospective Black visitors to South Carolina, many feared they would experience racial discrimination while in the state.
“We need to recognize that the fear of racial discrimination is real,” said Simon Hudson, who serves as director of the SmartState Center of Economic Excellence in Tourism. “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.”
Hudson pointed out the potential for growth in South Carolina’s African-American tourist destinations, but noted that additional funding needs to be poured into the preservation of the state’s many historic Black travel sites. The center director said several of the attractions are in need of repairs, as they lack updated technology and are often located in low-income communities.
“We have a great deal of African-American tourism attractions, but there needs to be some real investment in these facilities,” Hudson said. “It’s not only about bringing in new tourists. It’s about investing in what South Carolina already has and building upon it.”
South Carolina moved to take down the Confederate flag last summer following a mass shooting that claimed the lives of nine Black parishioners at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston. The gunman, Dylann Roof, was a self-professed white supremacist who sported pro-white and Confederate flag symbols in his online photos.
For many, the flag was a bitter reminder of the slavery, segregation and racial discrimination that plagued the South for decades. On July 9, 2015, South Carolina voted to remove the flag from its state capitol grounds, sparking efforts to eradicate the controversial symbol nationwide.
“Today, as the Senate did before them, the House of Representatives has served the State of South Carolina and her people with great dignity,” Gov. Haley said in a statement. “It is a new day in South Carolina, a day we can all be proud of, a day that truly brings us all together as we continue to heal, as one people and one state.”