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Travel Channel show costs city, business groups over $1 million

Business groups and the city of North Myrtle Beach will spend more than $1 million to get the Travel Channel's most popular personality to film an episode about the Myrtle Beach area.

Samantha Brown, host of a number of popular Travel Channel series, will be in Myrtle Beach on May 1 through May 4 to film an episode of her upcoming series, "Passport to Great Weekends," along the Grand Strand. Specific locations have not yet been set.

This is the first time an entire Travel Channel show will feature Myrtle Beach, though shows have spotlighted the area in shorter segments.

To get Brown to film here, local chambers of commerce agreed to spend $1 million for 1,150 ads on the channel, plus some funding for production costs, said Brad Dean, president and chief executive of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

Sixty percent came from the Myrtle Beach chamber and 40 percent came from the city of North Myrtle Beach and the North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce. The Myrtle Beach chamber's marketing budget for the year is about $15 million.

"What we're purchasing is proven advertising that helps build our base of visitors," Dean said. "The show is an added plus."

Much of the funding came through a tourism grant program that the S.C. Senate slashed from the upcoming budget earlier this month. The cut won't affect the deal with the Travel Channel.

At an event Monday in North Myrtle Beach to announce the Travel Channel show, Rep. Tracy Edge, R-North Myrtle Beach, took the opportunity to slam the Senate and pledged to try to work the $10 million for the grant back in before budget negotiations are finished later this year.

"I'm so disappointed that the Senate took these dollars out," Edge said. "But we are going to make sure that, even in the rough economy that exists today, that those dollars will be restored, and we will be able to continue doing things like this."

Pat Lafferty, the chief creative officer with the Travel Channel, came to North Myrtle Beach for Monday's announcement, though he said he had been in Myrtle Beach three weeks earlier with his family on vacation. Lafferty said Brown, who has a devoted fan base, really is how she seems on TV.

"You feel like you're with a rock star when you go down the street with her and have people come up to her and ask questions," he said. "She's just really that nice in person, which I think is not always the case for a TV host."

Brown was on location in the Napa Valley on Monday, shooting for the series, so she sent a video message.

"I'm looking forward to seeing a lot of you in Myrtle Beach. It's a great beach town and great golf. I know a lot of you golf."

The Passport series, which also will spotlight New Orleans, Las Vegas, Orlando, Fla., and other areas, will start airing in June. The air date of the Myrtle Beach episode hasn't been set.

Myrtle Beach business leaders are hoping that their investment pays off - and they are predicting a hit.

A survey by the Myrtle Beach chamber of people who responded to Travel Channel ads last year showed that 60 percent of people who took a vacation in 2007 visited Myrtle Beach, and 24 percent of those were first-time visitors. The chamber got a 3.36 response rate; 46 people responded after 1,371 postcards were sent.

The Nielsen Co., which tracks TV audiences, put Brown's ratings at up to 441,000 households for the first few months of this year. The top-rated cable show last week was the Saturday night movie on The Lifetime Channel, which reached more than 4.5 million households.

Anecdotally, chamber leaders said Travel Channel advertising pays off.

"When [the ad] runs, our folks don't have to know that it ran - our phones start ringing," said Marc Jordan, president of the North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce. "We can just imagine what's going to happen when Samantha puts us out there and tells the world what a great place this is to visit."

Time and date | To be determined

Time Warner Cable | Basic, unavailable; Digital Tier, channel 111

HTC | Basic, unavailable; Cable Plus, channel 58

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