The Myrtle Beach International Airport is planning to dangle several financial incentives to expand the Grand Strand tourism market to snowbirds as far west as Denver and as far north as Albany, New York.
The list of other new target markets includes Houston, Texas; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Peoria or Bloomington, Illinois; South Bend, Indiana; Islip, New York; Nashville, Tennessee; Dulles Airport in Northern Virginia; Flint, Michigan; White Plains, New York; Trenton, New Jersey; Knoxville, Tennessee; Kansas City, Missouri; Louisville, Kentucky; Rockford, Illinois; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Providence, Rhode Island.
The expansion plans come on the heels of the airport’s September report that shows passenger numbers increased nearly five percent over September 2016 numbers.
Despite the impacts of Hurricane Irma on airports up and down the East Coast, this year was the busiest September on record for the Myrtle Beach airport, said Scott Van Moppes, Horry County director of airports.
So far this year, more than 912,000 passengers have traveled through the airport. Last year’s total record number was more than 972,000, said Kirk Lovell, director of air service.
“Historically, after Labor Day, capacity drops off. But that’s no longer the case,” Lovell said. “We still have three months to go, so we’re doing fairly well.”
The Myrtle Beach airport now offers the most direct flights of any airport in the state -- 38 non-stop -- and is second only to Charleston in the number of seat capacity, Lovell said.
Several of those non-stop flights came as a result of the incentive package offered to earlier target markets.
Before the incentives can be expanded to the new markets, the Horry County Council must approve the list, which Lovell says was compiled from data that showed where new demands were emerging for travel to Myrtle Beach.
“We don’t just throw random markets that are doomed to fail on the list,” Lovell said.
The incentives, which must also meet FAA guidelines, give airlines offering a desired route free landing, property and apron fees for one year. For the second year, 75 percent of those fees are waived. The airlines still have to pay security, baggage handling and other fees, Lovell said.
“The idea is, eliminating and reducing those fees allows a new market to mature and be successful, because typically, the hardest part when you start a new market is building awareness that the market is there,” Lovell said.
To get over that hump, the airport kicks in $100,000 for an airline to market year-round flight service, and $50,000 to market seasonal-only travel.
The incentives are paid by money earned by the airport through landing fees, concessions and parking, Lovell said.
“We obviously want the service to start, we want it to be announced with big fanfare, and for the airline to market the new service -- that way it’s successful,” Lovell said.