Tourism initiative help for all

In a column published in the Aug. 5, edition of The Sun News, writer Issac Bailey attempted to make the argument that the tourism growth initiative – and subsequently the 1 percent tourism destination fee – was a government subsidy similar to President Obama’s national health care plan. He also implies the tourism growth initiative is the equivalent of providing financial assistance to the poor. While the tourism growth initiative certainly does help all Grand Strand residents and economic sectors through its investment, we believe Bailey’s claims to be inaccurate.

The tourism growth initiative was an investment in our community through an industry that benefits all sectors of the Grand Strand’s economy. It does not act as public assistance paid to an individual business nor is it public assistance that benefits one specific sector. Through tourism promotion, the city of Myrtle Beach has helped foster multiple business sectors and protect local jobs. In fact, the very businesses that are purported to be subsidized by taxpayer dollars are the source of the overwhelming majority of the new funding, meaning local business have, in fact, subsidized tourism promotion, local services and property tax cuts for local residents.

Additionally, the tourism growth initiative and tourism destination fee do not replace lost profits or the advertising placed by local businesses. In fact, most businesses we speak with say they spend more on advertising now, not less, as they can tell it makes a positive difference. Perhaps most importantly, however, is that the tourism destination fee does not – in any way, shape or form – create a barrier to free market enterprise or free trade. Consumers still make a conscious choice of where they will travel and spend their money.

We believe that Bailey may benefit from additional factual background information on the tourism growth initiative in order to understand it in its proper context. The need for the tourism growth initiative was made necessary by the known fact that we are a “donor county” in a “donor state.” Historically, visitors to our area pay transaction taxes and the majority of those funds do not stay local. Instead, they are used to build bridges and pave highways in other counties and states. They pay for school buildings, teachers and important government services throughout all 46 counties in South Carolina.

Of the funds collected that do stay local, the majority goes to cover the costs of police protection, fire and emergency services, public education and other government services, which are all vital to our community. For many years, this donor status forced the area’s tourism industry to be overly-dependent upon repeat visitation, as the Myrtle Beach area invested far less in tourism promotion than competing destinations.

In 2009, the South Carolina General Assembly recognized that tourism could help lead our state out of the recession we were experiencing and that investment in tourism promotion could benefit all economic sectors. Recognizing such, and realizing that the state was not in a financial position to be able to do so, they gave individual communities the right to fund additional tourism promotion and the city of Myrtle Beach led the way.

We can certainly agree with the author of the column in expressing his support for the tourism growth initiative. The city of Myrtle Beach took a bold step by implementing the initiative, and the results speak for themselves. Homeowners within the city of Myrtle Beach saw the state’s largest property tax cut in its history, new tourism infrastructure like the much-loved Myrtle Beach boardwalk was constructed, more visitors – including a record number of new visitors – are coming to the Myrtle Beach area, tourism tax revenues for local governments are increasing and thousands of jobs have been created. For every dollar that a visitor may pay in taxes, just a few pennies are reinvested in tourism promotion, and it’s very evident that this investment (not subsidy) has benefitted multiple sectors and helped to improve our community in numerous ways.

Singleton is chairman of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors, Huggins is chairman of the chamber’s marketing council, and Chapman is former chairman of the chamber’s board of directors.