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Traffic follows ad blitz by Myrtle Beach Area Chamber

The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce recently completed its largest-ever fall marketing campaign and preliminary results show that it was successful at showing and telling out-of-market residents about the Myrtle Beach area.

The $1.3 million campaign - which ran from Aug. 24 through Oct. 18 - primarily used online advertising and television spot ads, which covered 40 markets and seven that specifically featured nonstop air service into the marketplace, said Scott Schult, marketing director for the chamber.

Among the latter were ads in Chicago, Plattsburgh, N.Y., and Huntington, W.Va., that showed low-cost flights from Spirit Airlines, Direct Air and Allegiant Air, respectively.

Due to limited funds in the past, the chamber would have advertised in 20 to 25 markets with a limited push in September to try to sway last-minute decision makers, said Brad Dean, president and CEO of the chamber.

This year, with the passing of the 1 percent sales tax for tourism, which went into effect Aug. 1, and more extensive market research, the group doubled the number of markets and ran the advertisements for eight weeks.

During this year's campaign, unique visitors to the chamber's Web site, referrals to chamber members and lodging referrals increased anywhere from 48 percent to nearly 80 percent over the last year, and phone calls increased sevenfold, according to the data.

"While we're proud of the campaign results, the ultimate measurement is whether or not business was better because of the additional advertising and clearly, by comparing our occupancy rates and airport traffic to other markets, we know we're outperforming our competition," Dean said.

Nearly 10 percent more passengers landed at the Myrtle Beach International Airport in September than in 2008, and 2 percent more landed in August, according to the latest statistics from the Horry County Department of Airports.

These numbers are largely thanks to the chamber's marketing efforts, said Lauren Morris, spokeswoman for the department.

"We don't have the resources and capabilities to drive that demand," she said. "I commend them. We had a couple of challenging years in terms of the economic impact. ... I think we're just one part of that equation that reaped the benefits of that and I hope everyone else did too."

During the last six weeks of the campaign, hotel occupancy averaged 52.6 percent, up 5.4 percent from 2008, according to data from the Clay Brittan Jr. Center for Resort Tourism at Coastal Carolina University.

The center's director, Taylor Damonte, declined to say that there was a direct connection between these numbers and the increased out-of-market advertising efforts, but did rule out the price, timing of Labor Day and amount of attractions as reasons for the change. Those factors weren't much different from other markets, he said.

Local business owners and managers had mixed responses to the campaign's success , but most agreed that it didn't hurt matters.

"Compared to last year, we had a very good September. It was considerably better than last September," said Peter MacIntyre, general manager of Ripley's Aquarium, who added that better weather than last year may have also be a factor.

Jimmy Waldorf, owner of the Fun Plaza on Ocean Boulevard, said he noticed better numbers the last several weeks than the same time a year ago.

"I guess because of the weather and no threats of hurricanes and maybe because the chamber did more advertising, we did increase," he said. "October has been great so far, so evidently what they did helped some. It would lead you to believe that. I don't know what else to contribute it to."

There haven't been any major changes in sales or customers at the Pier 14 Restaurant, Lounge & Fishing Pier as a result of the chamber's amped-up fall campaign, said owner Brian Devereux.

"I don't have that kind of information that would tell me that it was any better," Devereux said, noting that the restaurant primarily serves tourists. This week, the chamber began its winter campaign, which will continue up until the week of Thanksgiving, Schult said.

The advertisements will promote the area's live theater performances, shopping, accommodations and coastal cuisine.