Tourism

Officials aim to lure 20 million tourists annually, without clogging beaches

Lifeguard David Starr talks with visitors as he patrols his area at 77th Ave. North in Myrtle Beach during a 4th of July weekend.
Lifeguard David Starr talks with visitors as he patrols his area at 77th Ave. North in Myrtle Beach during a 4th of July weekend. jlee@thesunnews.com

More than 17 million visitors flocked to Myrtle Beach annually since 2014, but the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce says the tourism industry has the capacity to handle 20 million and it plans to reach that goal in the next few years by marketing the Grand Strand as a year-round destination.

Dubbed “Grand Strand 2020,” the goal of 20 million visitors would generate $8 billion across the economy annually, says Brad Dean, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. The long-term goal is to create 1,000 new jobs in tourism by 2020, and attract $200 million in capital investment.

“We’re not going to get 20 million by cramming more people on the beach in summer, the challenge is to attract during the slower time of year, which also attracts year-round jobs,” Dean said. “Some people believe we have plenty enough tourists, we believe we can grow tourism and enhance the economy.”

Myrtle Beach is already known for sandy beaches and golf courses, but Dean said the community as a whole needs to begin a conversation as to what other segments of life on the Grand Strand should be marketed.

For example, Dean said, consideration should be given to whether planned soccer fields should be marketed to traveling teams as well as promoting the area for other sporting events.

We’re not going to get 20 million by cramming more people on the beach in summer, the challenge is to attract during the slower time of year which also attracts year-round jobs.

Brad Dean, president, Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce

Now is also the time to begin conversations about expanding the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, which Dean says is at near capacity.

Cultural tourism and other niche markets should be explored, while continuing to push advertisements beyond the regional market with year-round promotions on a national and international level, Dean said.

The Myrtle Beach International Airport is included in the promotion plans, with the hopes that recruiting more year-round air service would bring an additional 1 million visitors to the Grand Strand.

Dean said the two main factors stagnating tourism to the Grand Strand is the lack of an interstate and limited year-round service at the airport.

$8 billionEstimated annual economic benefit from 20 million annual visitors

The fall ballot initiative to raise sales taxes by 1 cent and fund road construction in the RIDE III project is also essential, Dean said. The $600 million raised by that tax would fund more than a dozen major construction projects in Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach as well as widening the main artery to the Grand Strand, S.C. 501.

Chris Walker, president of the Oceanfront Merchants Association, agreed that improving the road infrastructure in Horry County would boost tourism.

“An interstate leads people right to your front door, and anytime you get more traffic to your front door, that’s a good thing,” Walker said.

Expanding the airport while keeping flight costs reasonable should also be a goal, Walker said.

“We do have a beautiful airport, and for our size – it’s second to none and makes a great first impression,” he said.

Audrey Hudson: 843-444-1765, @AudreyHudson

Annual impact

Cumulative five-year impact

20 million additional visitors

Create 1,000 new tourism jobs

300,000 new group room nights

Generate $750 million publicity

1 million incoming passengers at Myrtle Beach International Airport

Generate 50,000 real estate leads from tourism marketing

$8 billion in economic impact

Attract $200 million in capital investment

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