Delegates from around the United States and Canada converged in the South Carolina Lowcountry in late November to take part in the 5th Annual Accent East Tourism Conference. Owned and operated by MARS and Companies and hosted by Visit Beaufort, the conference is designed to better acquaint tour operators with destinations, hotels, attractions, and restaurants in the Eastern USA. Speakers, brainstorming, itinerary planning, networking activities, a trade show, and local area touring were among the activities offered to delegates.
Big business is done in small groups – and Accent East is the perfect example. Delegates really get to know each other while discovering the cultural, historical, and eco treasures of the Southeast. Relationship building and the sharing of best practices are what makes the Accent brand so popular.
Exploring Culture, History and Ecotourism
Delegates enjoyed a grand time at the Early-Bird Reception, sponsored by the 2024 Accent East Host Destination, Traverse City Tourism. The next day began with a breakfast sponsored by IHG, followed by a keynote panel discussing how culture, history, and ecotourism work collectively to draw groups to destinations. The panel consisted of Anita Singleton-Prather aka Ms. Pearlie Sue – First Lady of Gullah; Captain Henry Brandt, Coastal Expeditions; and Nathan Betcher, Historian/Ranger – National Parks Service Reconstruction Memorial Park.
All delegates were asked to submit in advance two of the biggest issues facing their businesses today. A panel of industry professionals comprised by Elaine Moulder, Brilliant Edventures, Anjuli King, Visit Savannah, Lucy Raheja, Fox Theatre, and James Kouchinsky, Choice International spearheaded the interactive discussion on collectively finding solutions.
Welcoming Future Tour Operators
Lunch was sponsored by Choice International and Cambria Hotels. All brands under the Choice Umbrella relevant to groups were briefly presented. Also, during lunch, two Future Tour Operators were recognized and given the book “Travel Tribes” to help in the building of their businesses. A marketplace followed, further educating operators on destinations, attractions, hotels, and MARS tour programs.
Dinner at the Nautilus Room in Beaufort followed, cosponsored by Visit Beaufort-Port Royal CVB, Florence CVB, South Carolina Lowcountry, Visit Myrtle Beach, and Greg Rowles Legacy Theatre. It was a feast fit for a king and Greg Rowles provided lively entertainment.
Bridging Local Business and Group Travel
Accent supports Local and the next day breakfast was cosponsored by nine Beaufort Small Businesses, namely Coastal Expeditions, Rotten Little Bastard Distillery, Fripp Island Resort, South Carolina Low Country, Kelly Tours, Beaufort Tours, The Spice and Tea Exchange of Beaufort, Beaufort History Museum, Fort Fremont, and Best Western Sea Island Inn. Accent’s most popular session, Itinerary Planning followed. Operators took what they learned at the trade show, brainstormed with suppliers and the local businesses, and produced actual itineraries on-site. Each itinerary was presented before Accent concluded. Transportation for the event and FAM were provided by Kelly Tours and Old Savannah Tours.
After the conference, operators further explored Beaufort along with Bluffton and Hilton Head Island. The afternoon consisted of a tour of Fort Fremont by Wendy Wilson, product tastings, wine and cheese at MacDonald Market, and a Low Country Boil dinner at the Gullah Geechie Visitors Center with entertainment provided by Irene Goodnight.
The next morning, a city tour of Beaufort was provided by Kelly Tours and Beaufort Tours followed by an entertaining and educational tour of the Kazoobie Kazoo Factory and Museum. Fripp Island provided a delicious box lunch before departing for Bluffton and Hilton Head Island. The group then enjoyed a tasting and tour at the Burnt Church Distillery in Bluffton followed by a visit to the Hayward House and Church of the Cross.
Overnight was on Hilton Head Island at the Beach House Resort, located right on the beach as the name implies. An awesome spread of appetizers and cocktails were provided by the Beach House. The next morning, the Holiday Inn Express treated the group to breakfast. This was followed by a tour of Mitchelville Freedom Park and the Coastal Discovery Museum. The group then departed for home, complete with new information, contacts, and friends.
Future Accent Travel Conference dates are as follows:
2nd Annual Accent West – May 10-12, 2024 – Branson, MO
5th Annual Accent East – November 12-14, 2024 – Traverse City, MI