Allegiant Travel Co.’s announcement Tuesday of bringing four direct flights from Ohio, New York and Kentucky will prompt the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce to pump more marketing money into each market with the hopes of bringing millions of dollars into the local economy, a chamber official said.
Allegiant, in conjunction with Myrtle Beach International Airport, had a press conference at the airport to announce the new flights. Airfares will start as low as $54 one way as a way to introduce the new service.
Nonstop service to Myrtle Beach International Airport will now include flights from Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio; Lexington, Ky., and Syracuse, N.Y. The Cincinnati route begins May 30 with fares as low as $59 one way. Flights from Columbus begin May 29 with fares as low as $54 one way. Flights will also start on May 29 from Lexington for as low as $54 one way. The flight from Syracuse begins May 29 with fares as low as $64 one way.
Those discounted tickets must be bought by March 11.
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The 15-year-old company already has flights connecting Myrtle Beach and Allentown, Pa.; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Huntington, W.Va.; and Youngstown, Ohio.
Kimberly Downing, advertising manager for Allegiant, said the company is excited to offer more flights in and out of Myrtle Beach, considering its business model is built on the leisure traveler.
“Allegiant’s business model is meant to be flexible,” Downing said. “Right now, three of the markets are planned for twice weekly, and Columbus is three times weekly at this point. We don’t really expect that to change throughout the summer.”
She said she was unsure what the regular price of the flights will be after the promotional period, but said Allegiant is known for keeping its prices down.
“Of the 100 routes that we’re in right now, our average one-way fare is under $100,” Downing said. “We expect it to be very cost effective and an attractive price point for people to be able to get to Myrtle Beach affordably and inexpensively.”
On a day where temperatures in Myrtle Beach average in the mid-60s, Tuesday’s pitiful mid-30s high still was warmer than the temperatures in the destinations announced.
“I can promise you the weather is a lot better than this in the summertime,” said Mark Lazarus, chairman of the Horry County Council. “Partnership is the way we like to look at it, because your success is our success, and we need to build off of that with you and all other airlines... It’s an exciting time. It’s something to build on.”
And build on were two words economic development officials were salivating over at Tuesday’s announcement.
Anyone traveling the roads of Horry County knows that it’s not rare to see license plates of Ohio and New York drivers.
Brad Dean, president of the chamber, said a combination of Allegiant’s consumers, the area’s visitors and a look at the market made this equation work. He said the chamber gauged its top 10 to 15 markets and matched that with Allegiant’s, which is where the process began. Dean said the chamber feels there are between 20 to 25 markets in the eastern United States that could sustain some level of nonstop service to Myrtle Beach that is currently not served now.
“We use a variety of sources of consumer research that gauge the interest and potential travel to the destination,” Dean said. “We know a lot of people are driving from that market, but if affordable air service were available, would they fly and, in effect, would that bring more people here?
“We also do some specific consumer research... We survey consumers and ask them ‘Would you fly? When would you fly? And what are you willing to pay?’”
Dean said the tourists who fly to a destination have traditionally spent more than those who drive.
“Some of that is higher discretionary income, some of it is because they spend a little less time here, but they will spend a little more discretionary income while they’re here,” Dean said. “It is suffice to say, the economic impact of this, of Allegiant air service, will be tens of millions of dollars to the Myrtle Beach area.”
The need for service year-round is always a question Dean faces, and he said it is important for people to know that seasonal routes like these get the ball rolling for potential year-round service in the future.
Bill Golden, president of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, said it depends on the airline and depends on immediate success as to whether this seasonal route, like others in the past, grows from simply the summer to the area’s shoulder season.
“Starting somewhere is the key, and then building upon that,” Golden said. “We view this, as any air service, as an opportunity. It’s great that it’s here and it’s great they are coming during the summer months, but how do we begin the conversation about expanding those weeks to come earlier or later.
“In those markets, particularly Ohio and upstate New York, are great golf markets. We can prove that, but the question is can we prove that in a way that is profitable for Allegiant.”
Golden said now is when Golf Holiday and the chamber can focus on the golf audience in each of Tuesday’s destinations and compare it to the area’s tee time network data to find out when golfers from those areas are coming to the Grand Strand.
“In that case, we’ll be able to say, ‘Look, these folks are coming from Syracuse in probably February or March or in April. There’s demand there,’” Golden said. “They’re probably also coming in the fall, particularly later in the fall when the season is turning. So that’s part of the dialogue to say that we can establish demand.”
On Tuesday, Allegiant also announced a new destination in the Allegiant network, Palm Beach, Fla.
It also announced new seasonal service to Los Angeles International Airport from Iowa, Montana and Texas, as well as service to St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport from Ohio.
Year-round nonstop service to Palm Beach International Airport was also announced from Asheville, N.C., and year-round nonstop service to Phoenix-Mesa International Airport from Colorado and California.
As for the Grand Strand, Dean said two key components – affordable and nonstop service – helps lure first-time visitors to the area.
“We’re able to attract people who wouldn’t make a day-long drive to the area,” Dean said. “That builds a base, and then hopefully brings them back next year.”
He said area officials have been talking to Allegiant about these additions since last summer, and the chamber, airport and Allegiant are already talking about additional routes in 2015.
Dean said advertisements were already planned in each of the markets already, and now the chamber will spend “six-figure amounts” in a revised approach than originally planned.
“Knowing Allegiant was going to add service, we’ll increase the scope of our marketing, but we’ll also work with Allegiant to tie their pricing and their messaging into our ads,” Dean said. “What we do now is shift our messaging from a solely Myrtle Beach message to a Myrtle Beach message and an ‘oh by the way, if you’re coming, consider flying Allegiant Airlines.’”
Getting the new services off the ground, however, is the first task at hand.
“The real test will be the load factor sustained in the summer,” Dean said. “Then the questions is, can we grow it seasonally beyond that.”