Service with a smile

These local residents are excellent examples of hospitality in the Deep South. 

By Lola Campbell

Editor’s note:  To delve into the rich and captivating hospitality culture of the Deep South, LOCAL Life asked Hilton Head Island resident Lola Campbell to seek out exceptional individuals who personify the region’s remarkable warmth and genuine hospitality. Campbell was born and raised on the island as is a member of one of its oldest and most respected families. Her mission was to discover an innkeeper, a tour guide, a preservationist and a historian who epitomize the distinctive spirit of the Deep South and its unwavering charm. Mission accomplished. 

The phrase “Southern hospitality” resonates throughout the South, capturing a prevalent cultural stereotype. Southerners are often perceived as embodying a unique kindness and warmth, extending a genuine welcome to visitors in their homes and to the region as a whole. As someone who grew up in the Deep South, I can attest that it’s more than a mere perception — it’s a way of life. It’s the instinctive, “Good morning y’all!” offered to passing strangers, the willingness to go the extra mile for a transient tourist and the embodiment of the saying, “giving the shirt off your back” to someone in greater need. This extraordinary form of hospitality is ingrained in each generation, passed down without the need for charm school. Its essence, a captivating charm or je ne sais quoi, permeates every interaction. In the Lowcountry it is the service industry that truly showcases this brand of hospitality. They are the ones who greet visitors at our metaphorical doorstep, tending to their needs while upholding the Southern standard of warmth and care. Through their efforts strangers are embraced as family, as they understand the intrinsic value of making others feel at home.

The native son

Byron Sewell, a proud native of Hilton Head, is the proprietor of Native Son Adventures — a renowned establishment that he proudly claims to be “the island’s premier destination for light-tackle fishing, surfing camps and eco tours, offering an unforgettable connection with nature.” In 1997 Byron began on this venture fueled by his deep passion for fishing. After years of embarking on exhilarating expeditions spanning from the Bahamas to Tahiti, he experienced an epiphany in 2018 that redirected his focus toward the beauty of local life. Byron sought to showcase the authentic essence of his community and the activities that resonate with its residents, affectionately termed as “what we binyas love doing on our days off and in our daily lives.” This concept materialized into the widely acclaimed “Day with a Native” experience. When discussing Southern hospitality, Byron humbly expresses, “We don’t believe it can be taught — it runs through our veins.”


The cultural preservationists

Founded in 1996, Gullah Heritage Trail Tours emerged from a partnership of a Hilton Head Island Gullah Family. Its primary objective was to impart education and entertainment, commonly referred to as “edutainment,” about the rich Gullah-Geechee culture. Through vibrant narrations, visits to historical sites and the sharing of authentic information, Gullah-Geechee guides effectively convey the profound significance of this unique culture. The first tour was launched during the inaugural Gullah Celebration Month on the island, revealing a genuine interest and year-round demand for this captivating experience. With a heritage spanning five generations, this group of Gullahs possesses a deep connection to and involvement in the preservation and promotion of Gullah cultural heritage. Blending Gullah cultural values into their endeavors in the Lowcountry for over 40 years, they effortlessly offer guests an experience that reflects their profound understanding and commitment. Southern hospitality for this family is synonymous with the notion of family itself — making every visitor feel instantly at home. This sentiment is palpable as soon as individuals step onto the tour bus, enveloped by genuine warmth and a true sense of belonging.

©Gullah Heritage Trail Tours

The innkeepers

Meet the remarkable owners of Old Town Bluffton Inn: Danielle, Vince, McLean and Camo Harrison. Together they have breathed life into this luxuriously quaint establishment, driven by the desire to address the region’s need for more upscale accommodations and find the perfect spot to make their vision a reality. Despite being relatively new to the area, having settled in Bluffton in 2011, they were captivated by its small-town charm. Since then, their primary goal has been to meticulously craft an ambiance and experience that mirrors the town’s distinctive character, ensuring that their guests feel right at home. Operating since January 2019, the inn has quickly become synonymous with a “home away from home,” as described by its devoted owners. Within its charming walls, guests are enveloped in a sense of comfort and belonging. When it comes to Southern hospitality, Vince emphatically states that it is alive and thriving within their establishment. They hold a deep reverence for the significance of personal service, recognizing it as the very essence of true Southern hospitality — a principle they embrace with unwavering commitment.

©Abri Kruger Photography

The historical guides

In July 2022 Hidden Treasures Tours, a local golf-cart and soon-to-be-bicycle tour company in Bluffton, opened its doors after a two-year delay caused by the pandemic. The company is owned and operated by three brothers — Ray, Nathaniel and JT Pringle — who proudly hail from the native Gullah community of Bluffton. Their mission is rooted in preserving the African American-Gullah Geechee perspective, ensuring that it is not overlooked or lost amidst the myriad stories being shared. Hence, Hidden Treasures was born. The founders of Hidden Treasures Tours approach their craft with hospitality as their guiding principle. To this group, Southern hospitality entails welcoming visitors with genuine warmth and a kind smile, while seamlessly intertwining personal life experiences, historical narratives, cultural insights and even the occasional taste of delectable local cuisine. For them it’s not a conscious effort or a deliberate choice — it’s an integral part of their very being, woven into the fabric of their everyday lives. With an intimate understanding of Bluffton’s past and present, the Pringle brothers are well-equipped to offer an authentic perspective that embraces the African American-Gullah Geechee heritage. Their tours are a testament to their unwavering commitment to hospitality, ensuring that each guest feels a deep connection and leaves with a richer understanding of the community. By sharing their stories, the Hidden Treasures team not only upholds the cherished traditions of Southern hospitality but also celebrates the essence of who they are as individuals and as proud members of the Gullah Bluffton community.

©Hidden Treasures Tours

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