Summer is almost here, and we all know what that means: Millions of visitors will soon begin arriving in our community, anxious to enjoy a Grand Strand vacation. Restaurants will be busy, theaters will be packed, flights will be full and highways will be loaded with cars, RVs and other vehicles. In these challenging economic times, the arrival of visitors is a very welcome sign. This is true not just for those of us who live along the Grand Strand, but for all South Carolinians, as tourism is the economic engine that drives our state's economy.
Each year, visitors inject more than $4.5 billion into our local economy. They contribute hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes and fees, which fund infrastructure and services needed by tourists and residents alike, including roads, bridges, schools, law enforcement, cultural programs, beach protection and more.
The economic impact of tourism creates nearly 75,000 jobs throughout our region. And because many visitors eventually relocate to our area, tourism can positively impact our local real estate market, too.
Living in one of America's most popular vacation destinations presents challenges at times, especially when the number of visitors greatly exceeds our permanent population. Despite the long lines or traffic jams we've come to expect during the peak summer season, we can happily count our blessings. How many restaurants, golf courses or theaters would we have if no one vacationed here?
The same could be asked about retail stores, shopping centers, entertainment attractions and other venues. The Grand Strand wouldn't be quite so grand if it were not for the 14 million visitors who travel here each year.
Because the tourism industry is so vital to our national economy and contributes significantly to our cultural and social well-being, we celebrate National Tourism Week May 8-16. This span of days presents a unique opportunity for each of us to acknowledge the importance of our visitors, and with good reason. In light of the economic challenges facing South Carolina, tourism has never been more important to our state.
Our theme for National Tourism Week is simple: "Thank You For Visiting." No glitz, no glamour, no fancy slogans - just a simple thank you. In these challenging economic times, we cannot afford to take our visitor base for granted. Local and state welcome centers will be greeting visitors with big smiles and free refreshments. Local businesses will show their support with window decals and other messaging. Thousands of front-line employees will do all they can to deliver an exceptional customer experience for each of our visitors.
We encourage all Grand Strand residents and businesses to join us in thanking our visitors. Imagine the impression we could make if every business, employee and resident enthusiastically embraced this message. Letting visitors know we appreciate them is good for all of us.
On behalf of the many residents and businesses throughout the Grand Strand, I'm pleased to be one of the first to say, "Thank you for visiting."
The writer is president and chief executive of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.