West Columbia’s investment in tourism yielding a return for local businesses

By Terry Ward

What is the most popular activity in West Columbia in the warm-weather months? Up-to 1,000 tubers in a weekend have floated down the river, ending up at West Columbia’s Riverwalk Park.

“On an average weekend, we’ll put 300-plus in the river on Saturday and another 300-plus in the river on a Sunday,” said Michael Mayo, owner of Palmetto Outdoor. His business is growing, too. “Last year the average was around 250 a day on the weekend.”

Opening in 2006, Mayo has incorporated river recreation to turn his Palmetto Outdoor into one of the top outdoor outfitters in the Southeast. And West Columbia is a key component of that success. All tubing trips meet at the West Columbia Riverwalk and Amphitheater (just off of the Gervais Street Bridge) at 131 Alexander Road. Shuttles are offered seven days a week from Memorial Day until Labor Day. More than 50 percent of the Palmetto Outdoor tubers come from out-of-town.

“I cannot thank the City of West Columbia enough for all of their support and promoting the use of the river,” Mayo said. Tim James, C-WC Chamber CEO, said the city reinvests accommodations tax proceeds to help attract visitors to West Columbia via the Cayce-West Columbia Chamber’s Visitors Bureau.

“With the City of West Columbia’s support, we solicit visitors from out-of-town with ads that run in Raleigh, Asheville, Greenville, Charlotte, and Augusta,” said James. “We want them to come and stay for a while and that’s what many of them are doing.”

Mayo said the recent wave of near-100-degree temperatures, with 110-degree heat indexes, has made the always-cool water of the Congaree even more appealing.

“The weather has been fantastic and the river is the best way to cool down. Business has really picked up since Memorial Day,” Mayo said. “Our daily averages have gone up since the end of May and our weekend numbers have increased by 20 percent compared to last year.” And they’re still coming.

Students returned to West Columbia’s public schools on Aug. 7. That usually signals a dip in river-tubing traffic, but Mayo said he has seen good numbers of tubers even after school started. “On the Monday that was the first day of school, we had 80 tubers,” he said. “That’s a very high number for a Monday during the school year.”

While Palmetto Outdoor continues to attract more attention to West Columbia’s Riverwalk, Mayo said the effort has always been to keep river visitors in West Columbia for as long as possible. With new restaurants and other retail businesses opening since Palmetto Outdoor began operations, tubers are staying longer.

“I usually park in the city’s parking garage at 310 Court Avenue,” said Steve Cohen, a West Columbia Beautification Foundation Board Member and local business owner. “Almost every weekend, I see tubers coming in off the river, in bathing suits or bathing suits with covers. They head to State Street or Meeting Street to go to a restaurant and I have seen some going into the shops on State Street.”

One of the spots Cohen frequents is Savage Craft Ale Works. He said tubers come off the river and stop by the brewery at 430 Center Street, in the River District, for a drink or to dine.

“You can tell they’ve been on the river by the way they are dressed,” Cohen said. “If they stay for a couple of days, maybe they come back on the next day, too.”

And river tubing is not just for visitors. If you want to take advantage of West Columbia’s top natural and recreational asset, Palmetto Outdoor will stay open, conducting river tubing trips into the month of October.

Photo credit – Palmetto Outdoor

Leave a Reply