HGTC turns sports tourism into career field of dreams

sportsWhoever said life isn’t all fun and games must not have known about a career in sports tourism. What was once considered child’s play is now big business, especially in the booming sports tourism market of the Grand Strand.

Local municipalities have wised up to the potential windfall by building new sports facilities to accommodate more and larger tournaments and showcases, such as the new Myrtle Beach Sports Center indoor complex, the North Myrtle Beach Park and Sports Complex, and the Grand Park sports multiplex at Market Common. Sports tourism has an estimated $157 million annual impact in Myrtle Beach alone.

In response to the increased demand for a well-trained labor base, Horry Georgetown Technical College recently added a two-year associates degree in sports tourism. And like the local explosion in the sports tourism industry, the response to HGTC’s new degree has been impressive in its first year, according to program director Lawson Holland.

“We thought we would have 8 to 10 students the first year, so we were tickled to death to get 24 in the fall, and then 15 more in spring,” Holland said. “Now we have students doing summer internships all over the Grand Strand. We don’t have a final number for the class coming in this fall but it’s definitely growing.”

Holland sees the program as an excellent opportunity for recent and future high school graduates looking to parlay their passion for athletics into a career. With the potential for sports tourism jobs on the horizon, HGTC is providing students with a well-rounded education in the industry and all the tools they need to advance.

“We have a lot of young men and women in Horry, Georgetown and Marion counties who don’t know what they want to do for a career but they have a passion for sports,” he said. “This program is a perfect fit, especially with the growth of sports tourism on the Grand Strand. These are good local jobs and we’re preparing students to do them.”

As the only associate degree program in the state, HGTC stands at the cutting edge of the industry. The program covers various aspects of sports tourism – tournament management, marketing, facilities – but puts the focus on the No. 1 response he received when putting together the curriculum – customer service.

“People don’t mind spending money to bring their kids to a tournament or a cheerleading competition, but they want and expect good customer service, and that’s what we want to give provide,” Holland said. “Who wouldn’t want to come to Myrtle Beach and bring the whole family, but they want to have a positive experience.”

The Grand Strand already has a huge advantage over other markets that have tapped into sports tourism. As a popular family vacation destination, Myrtle Beach and the surrounding areas have a nice calling card for tournament organizers looking for an attractive host city for its players and parents. Thanks in part to HGTC, the Strand will be ready to cash in during the shoulder seasons with a knowledgeable and experience work force.

“I wish something like this had been around when I was young,” said Holland, a former assistant coach for the Washington Redskins and a fund-raiser at CCU before starting the new sports tourism program at HGTC. “For young people who are interested in sports and wondering what they want to do for a career, this program provides a stepping stone into a growing industry.”

Photo courtesy of HGTC

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