Explore Charleston hosts annual meeting

June 17, 2024

Area Leaders Honored for Distinguished Service 

 More than 450 business and civic leaders gathered at the Charleston Marriott for Explore Charleston’s annual meeting. Attendees heard from special guest Sheila Johnson, Founder and CEO of Salamander Collection. Awards were presented to six recipients for distinguished service to local tourism development.

Part of the Salamander Collection’s growing portfolio is Hotel Bennett, which Salamander operates in partnership with Bennett Hospitality.

Johnson, who was a founding member of Black Entertainment Television and is a board member of the Metropolitan Opera, Jackie Robinson Foundation and International African American Museum, engaged in an insightful conversation moderated by Explore Charleston CEO Helen Hill.

Referencing her memoir, Walk Through Fire, which was published by Simon and Schuster in September 2023, Johnson spoke about inclusivity, mentorship, perseverance and the importance of aligned value systems to effective leadership. She noted the significance of “paying it forward with education” throughout her professional career.

The spirit of inclusivity is part of what drew Johnson to the hospitality industry and is central to her vision for Salamander Collection properties.

The significance of the hospitality industry to the Greater Charleston Area continues to increase. On the heels of a record-setting 2022, the College of Charleston’s Office of Tourism Analysis recently reported the industry’s local economic impact grew to a new all-time high of $13.1 billion in 2023. The percentage of countywide sales attributable to tourism increased to 24.7%. Almost 54,000 local residents, more than ever before, now work in the industry.

In his opening remarks, Dan Blumenstock, Director of Hotels for Lowcountry Hotels and Chair of Explore Charleston’s Board of Governors, spoke to the importance of not growing complacent as a result of the destination’s run of record-setting years of success. He challenged attendees to maximize the moments in the year ahead and to remember that everyone in hospitality has a unique opportunity to set the tone for how others perceive the Charleston region.

Blumenstock also emphasized that the industry’s accountability extends beyond the traveler experience. “Hospitality builds community. This is where we live. This is where we raise our families, and we must continue to focus on livability…and we will continue to partner with our federal, state and local governments.”

Six Golden Pineapple Awards were presented. Since Explore Charleston’s inception in 1985, the Awards have recognized individuals and organizations that show exceptional dedication and commitment to the Charleston region’s travel and tourism industry.

The 2024 Golden Pineapple recipients include:

  • African American Settlement Historic Commission, recognized for honoring Black History Month through special programming at Boone Hall Plantation. Recipients were John Wright, President of AASHC, and Jim Westerhold, General Manager of Boone Hall Plantation and Farms.

  • Francis Marion Hotel, recognized for outstanding achievement of 100 years in the Charleston community. Honorees were Steve Dopp, Owner, and Gayle Karolczyk, Executive General Manager and COO.

  • Chris Harvey, Corporate Director of Operations for Charlestowne Hotels, recognized for outstanding service to Explore Charleston and the hospitality industry.

  • Jennifer Maxwell, Regional Director of Sales for Raines Hospitality, recognized for support of the Charleston region in her leadership roles, including a term as President, with the Mt. Pleasant Chamber of Commerce.

About Explore Charleston

As the region’s destination marketing and management organization, Explore Charleston represents ten municipalities across three counties. It seeks to unify and lead the local travel industry in marketing the Charleston area, create overnight visitation, and support responsible development through travel and tourism strategies.