Hilton Head a haven for retirees

THE ISLAND PACKET
By Erin Heffernan
Online Article Here

The look and feel of our communities is rapidly changing. Newly released census data reveals tangible trends in who’s moving in — and who’s moving out of Beaufort County. Here are three stories of families reflective of those changes.

After years of family vacations and golf trips to Hilton Head Island, Michael and Maddie Tucker retired to Hilton Head Island in 2012.

Today, they’re living the dream in their Sea Pines home on the 17th hole of the Heron Point golf course. It’s a quick six-minute walk to the beach.

Throngs of retirees are doing the same. As of 2014, about one-third of Hilton Head residents were older than 65, census data shows — up from about one-fourth of residents in 2000.

The census data is an indication that marketing efforts and development campaigns — five decades in the making — are paying off for Hilton Head.

Vacationers today, retirees tomorrow
Michael Tucker first came to Hilton Head from his home in Dallas, Texas for golf trips with a group of friends, drawn by the island’s famous courses, including Harbour Town Golf Links.

 When the time came for the couple to retire, Hilton Head was the clear choice.

“This was always going to be where I wanted to be,” Maddie Tucker said. “It has everything we could want. It’s beautiful. There is a ton to do. Plus I already had so many great memories here.”

It’s a pattern the early developers of the island planned.

“We always wanted to create a sort of funnel,” said Tom Gardo, a former employee with the Sea Pines Co. Working for developer Charles Fraser, Gardo handled corporate communications, advertising and public relations starting in 1973. “We wanted to get people to vacation here. Then one day they might get a vacation home and eventually they would pick Hilton Head to retire.”

The early marketers of the island were aggressive about getting upper middle-class families to see Hilton Head as “the best family vacation in America,” knowing it would encourage new residents, Gardo said.

“We’d look at the weather and wherever there were big snowstorms in the North, we’d buy out ads in the local newspapers,” Gardo said. “They’d say: You could be here.”

Marketing officials also would travel to country clubs in the Northeast and Midwest to make pitches about Hilton Head’s world-class golf and amenities, Gardo said. They targeted land-locked states, including Ohio, that were within a day's drive to the island.

Hilton Head’s amenities were carefully shaped around what would-be residents wanted — golf courses, tennis courts and bike paths, said Robert Onorato, president of Palmetto Dunes Resort from 1972 to 1986.

“We were looking for a well-funded, mature individual,” Onorato said. “That’s why we brought in some of the world’s best tennis players and golfers to Palmetto Dunes. They were the people that really built Hilton Head’s reputation among the people we wanted to come here.”

Early marketing efforts still yielding results
Those early plans are still paying dividends, said Andy Twisdale, a real estate agent on Hilton Head for nearly 24 years.

“So many people are retiring here after they’ve vacationed here for years,” Twisdale said. “They think about their kids and all the great experiences they had here and they move here when they get the chance because of everything they’ve seen the island has to offer.”

The result: Sea Pines now has a median age of 68, with more than 87 percent of the population older than 65, according to 2014 census data. Island-wide, only 17 percent of residents are native South Carolinians, according to census data.

The marketing model is changing though. New efforts include attracting younger visitors to the island.

“We really want to market to that next generation,” said Charlie Clark, vice president of communications for the Hilton Head Chamber of Commerce. "For us, it's rewarding to watch a new generation discover the island."

For example, the chamber is using Instagram and YouTube to attract millennials to the island. It’s also relaunching its #myislandtime sweepstakes that was popular with younger visitors last summer.

Current retirees like the Tuckers are also doing their part to spread the word about their new home.

“My son visits me here and always says he wants to retire here, too,” Maddie Tucker said.