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About the Tourism Growth Initiative

What is the Tourism Growth Initiative? A bold, dynamic plan of action designed to grow the Grand Strand’s tourism industry and, ultimately, to boost real estate sales as well. The Tourism Growth Initiative began in 2006 and continues today, with an impressive record of success thus far.

Is it working? YES!!! In 2009, the destination marketing investment generated a return on investment of $77-to-1; in 2012, the destination marketing investment generated a return on investment of $138-to-1, and by 2015, the destination marketing investment generated a return on investment of $476-to-1. 2016 saw a $490-to-1 return on investment.

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Background

The Grand Strand is home to one of the nation’s busiest vacation destinations, hosting 18.6 million visitors in 2016. Prior to 1995, the Grand Strand tourism industry was largely a well-kept secret within the Carolinas. Seventy-eight percent (78%) of all visitors came from within the Carolinas, and most of the non-Carolina visitors were golfers. With so much to offer visitors from outside the Carolinas, the Grand Strand was positioned to grow into a national and, ultimately, an international destination.

In 1995, the destination became a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), an empirical reference based on permanent population. At this same time, an unprecedented level of commercial investment was made by various entities. The area’s tourism industry grew at a rapid rate between 1995 and 2000, with a 19% increase in lodging capacity and a 22% increase in visitor traffic. The Grand Strand tourism industry began to diversify and mature, far beyond the expectations of most residents and businesses. Yet real estate prices and lodging rates remained well below comparable levels in competitor markets, positioning the market for future growth.

Marketing of the destination had remained focused largely on the regional drive-in market. Minimal funds were spent outside the 6-hour drive range. Except for the golf industry, very little was spent attracting new air service and developing new markets. At the same time, other destinations were steadily increasing their investment in tourism marketing.

In 2000, national travel softened due to economic concerns and the events of 9-11 caused a significant slowdown in tourism nationwide. Most tourism destinations rebounded in 2003 & 2004, but the Grand Strand tourism industry entered a period of stagnation. The lack of market expansion left the destination unable to grow its market share. At the same time, real estate prices along the Grand Strand remained well below that of other comparable communities, fueling a massive phase of construction and reconstruction, prompting the destination to reach a lodging inventory in excess of 108,000 rooms for rent during peak season.

Market Share

During the booming decade of the 1990s, the Grand Strand tourism industry grew --- but at a rate below the regional and national tourism industry. Visitation between 1995 and 2000 increased 22%. However, the next five years showed virtually no growth in the destination’s visitation. In 2005, D.K. Shifflet estimated 13.8 million tourists visited the Grand Strand, almost identical to the level of visitation in 2000. However, the lodging inventory had grown 33% during that same time period (on top of the rapid growth in the preceding five years). With visitation showing little growth amidst huge increases in inventory, the destination faced massive over-capacity in the lodging inventory. Similar situations existed in restaurants, theaters and golf courses. Over-supply led to downward pressures on price and profits, and ultimately impacted levels of employment.

The chart below shows the rate of growth during these two five-year periods.

Increase in Suplly & Demand graph

It’s no surprise that during this phase of over-building, the destination’s market share declined significantly. In fact, the destination had never lost so much market share in its history. Market share is calculated as the percentage of room nights and revenue (revenue per available room), per Smith Travel Research. The chart below shows the destination’s market share from 1995 to 2010. Note the period of stagnation during 2000-2006 and the period of steady increase from 2007-2010, reaching record levels in 2010 (basis: RevPAR):

Market Share-Grand Strand Tourism

Note: Market share calculated using STR estimated room nights and Revenue Per Available Room (RevPAR) using data from Orlando, Virginia Beach, Ocean City, Daytona Beach, Branson, Gatlinburg, Savannah and Destin-Ft. Walton. The Grand Strand Lodging Inventory is provided by CCU and includes vacation rentals and campsites.

New Markets

One key to growing Grand Strand tourism is to increase penetration into new markets. Until recent years, the Grand Strand was largely a Carolinas destination, with 78% of its visitor base in 1995 from North & South Carolina.

The destination grows into new markets by:

  • adding non-stop, affordable air service in new markets;
  • attracting first-time visitors from key markets of opportunity;
  • increasing market share by attracting visitors that frequent key competitor destinations;
  • attracting visitors who have not visited the Grand Strand in the past 3 years;
  • increasing group markets, including conventions, meetings, corporate travel and sports tourism;
  • increasing the number of tourists who visit for 3-4 days getaways.

Growing Air Service

A collaborative effort between local governments, Horry County Department of Airports, Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday and the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce has yielded successful growth in new air service. As the result of strategic marketing efforts, competitive airport cost structure, a healthy airline industry and ever increasing popular destinations tremendous growth at the airport has been experienced. From 2012 to 2016 the annual passenger traffic into Myrtle Beach International Airport (MYR) increased by almost 31%, and in 2016 seven airlines serves the market offering nonstop service from 35 markets to the Grand Strand. The airport reached an all-time passenger record during 2016, and is well-positioned for growth due to affordable operating cost structure at the airport and the popularity of Myrtle Beach, SC.

Deplanements at MYR graph

New Visitors

A key strategy within the destination marketing plan is attracting more first-time visitors and visitors that have not visited the destination in recent years. The destination has consistently proven that it can build its visitor base by earning a high level of repeat visitation. However, it is key to attract new visitors if the destination is to grow its overall visitor base. Seeking to grow the destination far beyond its traditional base, the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce markets aggressively in the Eastern United States and Canada. The chart below shows the destination’s marketing coverage in the 2017 core leisure travel campaign:

Flight Markets

The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber marketing strategy uses customized research, evaluation of market trends, strategic messaging and heavy reliance on video representing unique footage of the destination shared in a variety of ways. High-quality video and strategic messaging are essential to attracting new visitors.

Group Markets and Sports Tourism

The Grand Strand tourism industry is well-positioned to grow group business. Meeting planners and event coordinators find the area appealing for many of the same reasons that individual consumers choose to vacation here. Affordability, accessibility, diverse entertainment options and a substantial number of meeting and sports facilities make the Grand Strand a viable event and sports tourism destination.

The group sales division of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce uses a variety of promotional strategies to lure groups and sports tourism to the destination, including:

  • Trade Shows
  • Sales Blitzes
  • Destination Showcases
  • Familiarization Trips
  • Event Sponsorships
  • Print & Online marketing

In 2016, the group sales division attracted 1,066 leads with 264,752 room nights.

Marketing Investment

The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber invested approximately $25 million in tourism-related marketing in 2010. The investment in 2017 was roughly $32.0 million. Details of the current marketing plan, and supporting research, are available on MyrtleBeachAreaCVB.com. The funding sources include:

  • Accommodations Tax: 30% of the net accommodations tax from the City of Myrtle Beach, Horry County and the Town of Surfside.
  • Private contributions: nearly 300 local business voluntarily contribute varying amounts to financially support the tourism marketing campaign.
  • Destination-specific matching grant: the South Carolina General Assembly, through the state SC Parks Recreation and Tourism (SCPRT) agency, invests funds via a matching grant. The grant is an annual allotment, available to destination marketing organizations throughout the state.
  • Tourism Development Fee: the City of Myrtle Beach invests 80% of its 1% local-option sales tax into tourism promotion. The other 20% is withheld as allowed by state law, and is utilized for property tax credits and tourism-related infrastructure.

Measurement of Success

Return on Investment

The primary measurement of success for the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce tourism marketing plan is the specific return-on-investment (ROI). Ultimately, the ROI demonstrates the value added by the chamber’s marketing campaigns. Any decent marketing organization can, and should, provide an adequate measure of its ROI. Those who suggest that you cannot measure the economic impact of advertising are either naïve or misguided.

The ROI is calculated by comparing the estimated economic impact of those consumers who responded to advertisements and dividing by the marketing investment related to those consumers. Statistically-significant sampling is used to secure adequate coverage of all advertising responses, and conversion rates (% of inquirers who actually visit) are determined. This research allows the researcher to determine spending levels, length of stay, etc.

The chamber previously calculated its ROI internally, but in 2009 began using the services of Equations Research. It is important that an objective third-party provide this analysis, to ensure optimal methods are utilized and objectivity is maintained. The ROI for recent years is as follows:

Year Total ROI New Visitor ROI
2010 307 101
2011 344 117
2012 337 125
2013 343 140
2014 445 169
2015 476 178
2016 490 196

 

The overall 2016 ROI is broken down into three key measures:

  • Repeat Converts ($225:1) – visitors influenced by destination promotion and have visited in the past 5 years.
  • Lapsed Converts ($69:1) – visitors influenced by destination promotion and have visited previously but not in the past 5 years (i.e. last visit was 6+ years ago).
  • New Converts ($196:1) – visitors influenced by destination promotion but have never visited before (i.e. first-time visitor).

It’s likely that most of the repeat converts would have visited regardless of the destination promotion, so the chamber’s role was likely one of helping the visitor plan their vacation and select the particular businesses they would frequent. The Lapsed Converts & New Converts may not have visited if they had not been reached by destination promotion. As a result, the conservative estimate of the destination promotion ROI is $490:1.

ROI is the single-best measurement of the impact of advertising. However, other measurements of success which can be helpful include:

  • Gross retail sales
  • Hospitality industry revenues
  • Accommodations revenues
  • Employment levels
  • Airport deplanements
  • Lodging metrics – RevPAR, Occupancy

Tourism Development Fee

In May 2009, the City of Myrtle Beach enacted a Tourism Development Fee (TDF). The TDF is a local-option sales tax to be used specifically to grow tourism. This ‘penny sales tax’ generates approximately $28 million annually. There are three distinct uses for the TDF:

Tourism Marketing: the City of Myrtle Beach designates the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce as its marketing agency. The chamber receives 80% of the TDF to be used for tourism marketing. In accordance with state law, the chamber invests these funds in tourism marketing designed to attract out-of-state tourists to visit the Grand Strand for the first time. The funds are invested using plans and strategies developed with sound market research.

Property Tax Credit: the City of Myrtle Beach used roughly 11% of the TDF to reduce property taxes on owner-occupied residences. This tax credit reduced nearly 90% of city-imposed property taxes on owner-occupied residences. To date, this is the single largest property tax cut in state history.

Infrastructure: the remaining portion of the TDF is utilized for tourism-related infrastructure. The initial investment made as a results of implementation of the TDF was the new Myrtle Beach Boardwalk in downtown Myrtle Beach (funded by local accommodations taxes that were previously used for destination marketing).

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Marketing Partners

The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, dba Myrtle Beach Area CVB, serves as the destination’s primary tourism marketer. However, the Chamber’s success comes as a direct result of a broad, collaborative effort that entails many results-oriented organizations, including:

Infrastructure

Recognizing that additional tourists will put added pressure on the region’s infrastructure, the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce is committed to enhancing the region’s infrastructure through strategic investment in key projects. These projects include:

Interstate 73: the Myrtle Beach area is the nation’s busiest vacation destination without interstate access. I-73 will grow tourism, attract new industry, increase employment, and provide a much-needed alternative evacuation route.

Airport Expansion: Work was completed in March 2013 on the $118 million airport expansion project that brought the total number of gates from seven to 13. The expansion also included new parking facilities, a separate car rental building and completion of Harrelson Boulevard. In August 2014, work began on a $20 million runway rehabilitation project that has a 20-year life expectancy. Work was completed in the summer of 2015. Renovations were also made to the airport’s former terminal, with work finished in 2016.

Myrtle Beach Boardwalk: upon approval of the Tourism Development Fee, the City of Myrtle Beach was able to authorize construction of the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk. The boardwalk is a 1.2 mile boardwalk in downtown Myrtle Beach. The boardwalk opened in April 2011 and has become one of the most popular attractions for tourists and residents alike. The boardwalk has become the catalyst for redevelopment within the region and that continues today. The Myrtle Beach Boardwalk was awarded the prestigious South Carolina Governor’s Cup at the 2015 Governor’s Conference on Tourism and Travel.

Accountability

The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce takes its role as the area’s primary tourism promoter very seriously. Likewise, the chamber is the steward of public funds designated for tourism marketing and remains committed to a high degree of accountability and transparency.

The chamber voluntarily discloses details of all public funds received and spent. The chamber provides a detailed listing of expenditures --- amount, payee and description --- quarterly, online. The chamber provides this data as far back as 2008. Though this far and away exceeds the requirements set forth by state and federal law, the chamber believes it is imperative that it offer an adequate level of reporting so that individual taxpayers will have full access to reports showing how public funds are spent.

Likewise, the chamber also discloses all marketing presentations and market research, as well as the results of its annual conversion study, at MyrtleBeachAreaCVB.com. The chamber compiles an annual visitor profile based upon proprietary research; the visitor profile, and other statistical information is available on the chamber’s website MyrtleBeachAreaChamber.com.

Research

To effectively grow tourism, strategic market research is necessary. The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce utlilizes a full-time research professional and acquires regional, national and international trend analysis and statistical compilations throughout the year. The chamber also secures the services of professional research firms and economists for customized research.

Recent research includes:

  • Market analysis
  • Tourism analysis
  • Economic impact analysis
  • Infrastructure impact analysis
  • Air service development research
  • Visitor profile
  • Spending analysis
  • Regional market segmentation
  • Video focus group studies
  • Group sales analysis
  • Festival / Event analysis

Much of the information acquired is available on MyrtleBeachAreaCVB.com. This, and other information, is available within the Research section of the chamber’s website.