Myrtle Beach area targeting international visitors

dbryant@thesunnews.comOctober 28, 2013 

Myrtle Beach’s main tourism promoter is partnering with BrandUSA to lure international visitors to the Grand Strand, but admits it won’t be easy.

“From the local perspective, we aim to grow international tourism but face stiff competition, as we have to compete with top-tier cities like New York, Miami, Chicago and Las Vegas,” Brad Dean, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said in an email. “Growing international visitation to our area will open our market up to new visitors who typically spend more than the average traveler.”

The chamber is working with BrandUSA, the new U.S. international tourism marketing arm, with promotions in Canada, and likely will expand next year to countries such as Europe and China, Dean said. Partnering with the group is cheaper than trying to do it alone.

“BrandUSA levels the playing field and offers smaller destinations like the Myrtle Beach area numerous opportunities to insert our destination into the travel planning process for foreign travelers who have never been here before,” Dean said.

BrandUSA, a nonprofit, public-private partnership, was created by legislation President Barack Obama signed in 2010 “to promote the United States to world travelers.”

Along the Grand Strand, Canada has long been the biggest international market, a relationship that goes back decades and is celebrated with the annual Canadian-American Days every spring. But the destination is working to attract visitors from other countries, in part because international visitors spend more than the average American traveler.

China is another market that Myrtle Beach and South Carolina leaders have said they want to target. The potential for tourism growth is huge – about 1.8 million Chinese visitors came to the United States in 2012 and the U.S. Commerce Department expects that number to increase to nearly 2.6 million by 2017. Chinese tourists on average outspend every other international traveler, including those from Japan, according to a Fortune magazine report. Chinese visitors spend an average of between $6,000 and $7,800 per trip to America.

Officials have said it will take time to build that China market. China is one of the countries Myrtle Beach might partner with BrandUSA to target next year.

Dean lauded BrandUSA for creating a buzz about travel to the United States.

“BrandUSA provides an unprecedented level of promotional support for international marketing,” Dean said. “They are also building interest of travel to America and, in doing so, opening up new markets for U.S. destinations.”

BrandUSA is funded by the private sector, mostly the tourism-related industry, with matching federal funds of up to $100 million a year from a $10 fee that international travelers pay when they visit the U.S.

Last year, the first full year of operation, Brand USA received $60 million in private-sector funding. That more than doubled to $130 million this year.

The program promotes all 50 states on their various websites and in promotional material. States can supplement that support by sending in additional funding from state tourism organizations and local chambers of commerce to pay for targeted programs arranged by Brand USA, as Louisiana and South Carolina did.

Stateline.org contributed to this report.

Contact DAWN BRYANT at 626-0296 or at dbryant@thesunnews.com or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_dawnbryant.

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