Though the idea of Chinese airline companies flying directly into Myrtle Beach International Airport is far-fetched for most, the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce says it’s working on making the Grand Strand a stop on the itinerary of Chinese visitors.
The presentation came the same day as President Barack Obama’s administration announced it would extend the visa validity period for Chinese travelers to the U.S. from one year to 10 years.
For the Grand Strand to capitalize on the buying power of the Chinese tourist or investor, it needs to market itself as a second-tier destination, which is what one chamber official says it is doing.
The Myrtle Beach Airport Advisory Committee heard from airport officials Wednesday that Myrtle Beach International Airport ranks 179th in American destinations for Chinese travelers, with a daily average of .44 passengers per day. That’s not near enough for the more than 250-passenger plane that airline companies say they need to travel more than 6,000 nautical miles from Myrtle Beach to China.
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Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey leads the list of U.S. Markets followed by Los Angeles and San Francisco International Airport.
“To summarize, we are way, way, way down the line to even think about it,” committee member Jon Bourne, who had asked for information about demand from Chinese tourists, said after hearing the results of the study. “After looking at it, the demand is just way down there.
That wasn’t a big surprise to Brad Dean, CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, who was not at the meeting. Dean said the three- to five-year plan calls for more collaboration between MYR and major airports in Washington D.C. and Atlanta to get those tourists to consider connecting to Myrtle Beach.
“I’ll just say this candidly, I don’t anticipate we’ll see flights coming from China to the local airport anytime soon,” Dean said. “But we are hopeful Myrtle Beach could be included on longer itineraries of Chinese visitors. In the last 18 months, we’ve held conversations with two commercial airlines and one charter-based carrier about international service, including, but not limited to, China.”
Dean said it’s very common for the Chinese tourist to visit multiple communities in America, some looking for investments.
“Chinese investors are looking for safe harbor investments and overseas opportunities and the U.S. ranks high on their priorities and Myrtle Beach can factor into that,” Dean said. “We’re not seeing Chinese investors show up left and right. When you look at the Myrtle Beach area, we have excess capacity in many of our industrial categories, specifically golf courses and hotel properties.”
China residents have purchased eight golf courses in the Myrtle Beach market within the past year and a half.
A group of Chinese investors purchased Burning Ridge Golf Club in Conway, Indian Wells Golf Club in Garden City Beach and the Founders Club at Pawleys Island in September. The investors paid about $11 million for the three courses.
In June 2013, a businessman who is known as Mr. Pan and described as a successful industrialist with varied interests, including several real estate holdings primarily in China, purchased the three-course Sea Trail Resort in Sunset Beach, N.C., for $8.5 million at a Chapter 11 bankruptcy auction.
In March, China resident Shengwen Lan, who became familiar with courses in the area by playing in the 2013 Myrtle Beach World Amateur Handicap Championship, purchased Crown Park Golf Club in Longs for between $1.5 million and $2 million.
In June, the Chinese married couple and restaurateurs Chun Lan Li and Shi Lin Zou purchased Black Bear Golf Club in Longs for about $1.5 million.
About 1.8 million visitors made it to America in 2013 from the People’s Republic of China, according to the National Travel and Tourism Office. Each visitor spent about $5,414 on average, which is second to visitors from India, according to the data.
On Wednesday, the Obama administration announced it will extend the visa validity period for Chinese travelers to the U.S. from one year to 10 years.
“China is the fastest-growing nation for inbound travel to the U.S., and this extension will allow that burgeoning tourist market to continue to grow,” Dean wrote in an email issued by the chamber Wednesday. “By allowing Chinese tourists that have already visited the U.S. to return without unnecessary delays, we anticipate an uptick in outbound travel from China and that will likely benefit second-tier markets that Chinese tourists are eager to explore. Because of our partnership with Brand USA, the Myrtle Beach area is well-positioned to grow its brand recognition worldwide and welcome more international visitors in the near future.”
Dean said the chamber’s collaboration in recent years with Brand USA — a company designed to attract international travelers to U.S. destinations — has been ongoing and has led to domestic partnerships to draw the international tourist.
“International travelers stay longer and spend more...,” Dean said. “Whereas we generally wouldn’t go out and co-promote ourselves with other destinations, in the international market, it’s natural for us to do that.”
A Google search for flights from Myrtle Beach to Shanghai showed different routes passengers could choose from. A Delta flight took passengers to Atlanta, Detroit, Beijing and then Shanghai.
Another was a U.S. Airways flight that took passengers to Charlotte and then to Chicago. There, they would pick up an American Airlines flight to Shanghai.
Flights cost between $1,200 to $1,600 when planned 15 days ahead.
Jason Terreri, assistant director of Horry County airports, said it’s important that Myrtle Beach market itself as a second-tier market, because those with big attractions like casinos and Disney World, even see themselves in that classification.
“One of the challenges that markets like Las Vegas and Orlando face is that those airlines are not going to make a lot of money,” Terreri said. “When you’re looking at your low-yield markets, the airlines, if they have one airplane, are they going to send it to Orlando or Dubai? Dubai is going to have that business traveler, the high fares and they’re going to get that money. That’s going to win it every time.”