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Travel guru gets city keys

A key to an American city is a step up from prison fan mail.

Now Samantha Brown has received both.

The always-smiling, super-nice Travel Channel host was presented with keys to Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach on Friday.

"You really feel like you've arrived," said Brown, who is on the Grand Strand this weekend filming an episode of her summer series "Passport to Great Weekends."

Tourism and city officials hope the Grand Strand's 30 minutes of fame on the popular show will entice fans to book trips here.

Brown said she's only received a key to one other city - Xian, China - but none in the United States.

The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and North Myrtle Beach Chamber placed $1 million in advertising on the Travel Channel to get Brown's show to film here.

"All the deals and things that somehow get me to a place, really for me it's just about understanding a destination, absolutely connecting with the people of that destination," Brown said during the ceremony at the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

As the tourism industry turns its attention beyond the pale to try to attract new visitors, chamber leaders have started to realize that many people are very unfamiliar with the Myrtle Beach destination.

This is the third big programming push from Myrtle Beach this year. First, the city hosted two presidential primary debates in January, putting Myrtle Beach in the spotlight on Fox News and CNN. Then, a local golf marketing group, Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, produced a reality golf show set here that airs on The Golf Channel.

Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes said he credits the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and its president, Brad Dean, with thinking big.

"Not until Brad put together the idea of bringing the two political debates to our city did we realize just how little America knew about Myrtle Beach," Rhodes said. "Now he's brought Samantha Brown to our city to even give them an opportunity to find out more."

Brown and her crew are staying at Litchfield Plantation. They filmed Thursday at Sea Captain's House in Myrtle Beach, where Brown ate she-crab soup and spoke to other diners.

One 85-year-old man, she said, had been coming to Myrtle Beach since he was 7, and he still loves it, even though much has changed.

"It's not just me," she said. "It's all about the people in the destination."

Other stops on her trip include Fat Harold's Beach Club, Judy's House of Oldies and Hawaiian Rumble Miniature Golf, all in North Myrtle Beach; Family Kingdom and the Slingshot in Myrtle Beach, and Myrtle Beach State Park.

The series will premiere June 26, though the run date for the Myrtle Beach show has not yet been determined.