CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Charleston has been ranked a top tourist destination seven years in a row by Travel+Leisure.
According to the College of Charleston Office of Tourism Analysis, in 2018 the Charleston area welcomed an estimated 7.3 million visitors.
The report estimated visitors generated a total economic impact of over $8.1 billion.
The increase in tourism has some residents concerned about the future of the city. The peninsula, which has become the Lowcountry’s tourist hub, has seen an immense amount of change over the last two decades.
Records obtained by the Count on 2 Investigators show there are 46 hotels on the peninsula. The data also reveals there are about 25 new hotels in the city’s pipeline. Some are listed as approved while others are anticipated, but together they would bring up to 2,000 hotel rooms to a city already battling traffic and flooding woes.
City of Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said he has worked to scale back hotel development since he first entered office in 2016.
“It will cause an impact on the quality of life if we do not get it bridled,” he said.
Since 2016, Mayor Tecklenburg has created four proposals that focused specifically on hotel development; all were denied by city council.
“We want to have offices here, we want to have folks conducting business, and doing enterprise in our city,” he said. “So not just tourism but a variety of business use is healthy for our economy,” he added.
In May, Mayor Tecklenburg formed a Hotel Taskforce to better control growth on the peninsula. The group is made up of city council members, neighborhood leaders, hotel representatives, preservation groups and others.
His fifth and latest proposed ordinance recently received its first approval and will be heard by city council for the second time in the coming weeks.
The ordinance addresses parking, contributions to affordable housing, and room limits for hotels.
College of Charleston Tourism and Hospitality department head Wayne William Smith said it is not the number of hotels that is necessarily worrisome, but the purpose they serve.
“Most hotels from the beginning to end take six years. A lot can happen in six years. So you will see them on the books as potential but they end up never getting built,” he said.
Smith said there are actually benefits associated with having hotels located in one concentrated area. A central tourist district, he said, lowers costs for roads, controls traffic, and requires less public transportation.
“This is actually called the paradox of tourism. The very thing can destroy itself if it’s not planned correctly,” said Smith.