A campaign sending a strong message to potential Memorial Day weekend visitors to obey local laws will kick off in early 2015 and cost six-figures, part of an effort aiming to regain control of the holiday weekend after it turned deadly this year.
This campaign doesn’t have the usual roll-out-the-red-carpet message of typical tourism ads aiming to lure potential visitors to a destination and could cause some pushback.
The message will be “we welcome anyone and everyone who desires to visit our local community and obey our laws, but if you don’t intend to follow our laws, we prefer you stay home or go elsewhere,” said Brad Dean, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, which is putting the campaign together.
Dean, who has been outspoken about regaining control of Memorial Day weekend, said he’s hopeful the strong message in the ads won’t turn off potential visitors, and that they might appreciate the community’s effort to keep the destination safe.
“We remain hopeful that likely visitors will appreciate our community’s desire to maintain a safe, lawful environment for everyone,” Dean said. “We may get some pushback from those who believe they are above the law, but we cannot condone the lawlessness and mayhem that regularly ruins what should be a wonderful weekend spent celebrating our true American heroes.”
Tourism drives the Grand Strand economy, and millions of dollars are spent annually on ads and marketing aiming to entice travelers to vacation here. There is a risk that the message in this campaign will turn off tourists and they’ll take their vacation dollars elsewhere.
“Absolutely. There is that possibility,” said Jim Creel Jr., chairman of the chamber’s marketing committee who will become chairman of the chamber’s board of directors in December. “But the community, the citizens of Myrtle Beach and our sister communities have said enough is enough.”
Local leaders have been working to put together a strategy aiming to regain control of Memorial Day weekend after three people died and seven were injured in eight shootings on Ocean Boulevard this year, when thousands of visitors were in town for Atlantic Beach Bikefest, holiday events or to take advantage of a three-day weekend. Local leaders are working on a traffic plan for the holiday weekend but no decisions have yet been made.
Days after the violence, the chamber said it would lead a publicity campaign emphasizing lawfulness and safety. It has been working on the campaign for about six months with media partners and publicity firms, Dean said. The campaign will rely largely on social media and will target likely attendees for that weekend based on geography, age, interests, etc., he said.
Tom Regan of the University of South Carolina’s College of Hospitality, Retail and Sports Management said he’s never seen a tourism ad campaign that direct — but it’s needed in this case.
“You are working in a different space due to violence,” he said.
The risk with a campaign that sends such a strong message is that tourists will stay away and not bring their vacation dollars to Grand Strand businesses, but the potential reward likely outweighs that, Regan said.
“The ... cost is never measured for tearing up the town, breaking things and security costs,” he said. “That always seems to be forgotten. Fewer people, better behaved may really bring greater overall benefit.”
Dean said some businesses aren’t on board with potential changes for Memorial Day weekend.
“Some businesses have expressed concern that the changes being discussed could make Memorial Day weekend less profitable but our view is simple: if your business is dependent upon an out-of-control event that overwhelms our community and puts lives in jeopardy, you need a new business model,” Dean said.
The chamber is waiting for local governments to finalize their plans to make the holiday weekend safer — including a traffic plan — before launching the publicity campaign in early 2015, Dean said. The campaign’s cost likely will be a six-figure amount, but the exact cost isn’t yet known because the chamber is still finalizing its 2015 budget, he said.
“Suffice to say, this is a top priority for us and we will take all reasonable measures to extend a warm invitation while reinforcing important changes underway to protect our residents and visitors,” Dean said.