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  • Vishnu Volate

Charleston hospitality second to none

By Vishnu Volate

The Charleston area has experienced unprecedented development since 2020,

most drastically in the hospitality and tourism industries.

And while the Holy City has always been a tourist hub with its beaches and historical sights, its hospitality is probably the city’s biggest attraction.

“We all think and ask what is the secret ingredient?" says Chris Campbell "The hospitality.”

In fact, ExploreCharleston reports nearly a quarter of all sales generated in the tri-county area are attributed to tourism.

“You can imagine all the ways it permeates through the economy,” said Campbell, director of communication at ExploreCharleston. “And so that generates a lot of revenue in the region.”

Campbell reported that the industry brings in $12.1 million annually, which adds enhancements city-wide.

Recently the city has begun work on the final phase of the Low-battery seawall. The increase in revenue has allowed the municipality to generate $4 million for the West Ashley pedestrian bridge and $912,000 to staff a new Johns Island fire station.

Campbell emphasized that they are very interested of keeping the city enjoyable for residents too and not just an area for tourists. 

“We're cognizant that there is also strain that it can put on a community,” Campbell said.  “We value wanting to maintain that livability.”

Still the positive effects are felt by more than just the tourists. Those in the industry are benefitting as well.

“Charleston, I feel like is a good opportunity for a lot of businesses to show themselves. I know that Charleston is heavy in hospitality,” said Jae Oree, owner of Mama Kims, a Lower King Stree restaurant serving authentic Korean food. “I think that is actually impressive.”

Tyler Hunt, co-owner of Legend Deli, decided to open a brick-and-mortar location at 41-A Geroge Street since the food and beverage economy is in a boom.

“My opinion, the writing on the wall says it's gonna keep doing the same thing for the foreseeable future,” he said. “Obviously, we're maxing out on real estate in downtown, but the area is growing.”

Since the shutdown from COVID-19 in 2020, Charleston has been busting at the seems with visitors as well as new residents. And the increase in visitors has caused a spike in employment in the Charleston area.

Oree has definitely noticed an increase in visitors to Mama Kims post-COVID.

“More people [are] coming out and being friendly,” he said, adding he has seen a giant change with more people just out and about, walking around the sidewalks.  “Foot traffic is awesome. More people are actually dining.”

Hunt has noticed the same with his deli.

 “I think we've seen a resurgence in people going out to eat,” he added. “They will be entertained by the idea of going out to eat.”    

For anyone interested in a career in the hospitality industry, Charleston is a gold mine of experience.

“It lets me meet a lot of people and be exposed to a lot of situations along with [the] great people you are able to work with.” says Jake Tanner, a bartender at the RustyBull Brewing Company. “Being in Charleston, there are people from all over.”


"I think it is a really good way to start a career.” -Jake Tanner

Many in hospitality believe Charleston is the perfect place to hone their craft in an exploding industry. 

"I think it is a really good way to start a career,” Tanner explained. “No matter what you end up doing.”

Hospitality workers gain valuable skills, mainly through customer service. To others, it offers an opportunity to forge new relationships.

Courtesy of Andrew J. Whitaker, Post and Courier

“I think it's a great experience to communicate,” says Lauren Bihm, a front desk associate at the Hotel Indigo. 

With a controversial past rooted in slavery and the Civil War, Charleston’s history can be complicated. 

But Campbell believes the city’s rich history,  its diversity, and its booming economy make the city the great place it is. 

“Carrying the story, the authentic history of this community to our very diverse and inclusive visitor base, we take this very seriously,” he said. “Some of that is very painful, not all the history is good, but it is our history.” 

The emphasis on diversity in both economic and cultural sectors echoes other facets of the hospitality industry. 

“The ideas and personalities that we’re trying to push out,” said Oree. “I think we do that in a way that is more inclined to hospitality.” 

With ethnic and cultural diversity throughout the Lowcountry, Charleston has something for everyone, and Hunt believes that is one of its best traits. 

“I think Charleston is lucky,”  said Hunt. “We have a very complex smorgasbord of options.”

The cultural diversity is also helping to attract more employees. A recent Monster poll reported that 83% of the Generation Z workforce sees diversity as a crucial part of their workplace experience.   

“We’re proud of where we live and want to share the culture and history with everyone,” says Bihm. 

Although Southern hospitality is a thing all over the South, Campbell is definitely biased about Charleston. 

“It's a very powerful thing, southern hospitality,” he said. “But we think we do it better than other Southern destinations.”

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