What a new transatlantic flight means for Strand golf, tourism. Is Myrtle Beach next?

British Airways will start flying direct from Charleston to London next year.
British Airways will start flying direct from Charleston to London next year.

The first nonstop transatlantic flight from South Carolina to Europe was announced last month.

British Airways will have two flights per week from Charleston International Airport to London’s Heathrow Airport from April 4 to Oct. 24.

The Grand Strand is sure to attract some of the travelers to its golf courses, beaches and other attractions, and flights to Europe will be more accessible for residents, so there will be a benefit to the area.

But Strand tourism officials believe this flight could be just the beginning of a much bigger connection between the S.C. coast and Europe, including a transatlantic flight emanating from Myrtle Beach International Airport, which might not be far off.

“It will happen,” said Bill Golden, president of the Golf Tourism Solutions marketing and technology agency that promotes the Myrtle Beach golf market.

Golden, who for several years has been directly involved in negotiations with airlines along with other tourism and airport officials to bring flights to Myrtle Beach, said there have been recent talks regarding a nonstop Myrtle Beach-Europe flight.

“It’s certainly high on the list of priorities,” Golden said. “We’ve had conversations very recently that didn’t pan out. It’s a conversation that’s ongoing and we feel confident it’s going to happen at some point.”

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Golden said the first overseas nonstop flight to Myrtle Beach will “certainly” be from the United Kingdom considering the Strand gets a fair amount of tourism from England and Ireland, and international travelers departing from Myrtle Beach are often traveling to locations in the UK.

Myrtle Beach has international flights, with two carriers offering nonstop service from Toronto, “and the next opportunity is going to be one of the new carriers somewhere in Europe,” said Scott Schult, Executive Vice President of Marketing for the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

“We’ve got a great product and we’ve got some awareness right now with our golf products specifically in Ireland, Scotland, the UK, so that bodes well for us already,” Schult continued. “As cost-effective air service continues to be on the forefront, we’re going to do everything we can in our region to work collaboratively just here in our own backyard to cultivate air service directly from somewhere in Europe.”

What makes cultivating the European tourism market more appealing are studies that show international travelers stay longer and spend more money than domestic tourists.

“We know international travelers typically stay longer and invest more money,” Schult said. “Those are the types of guests we want to be able to roll the red carpet out for. This [Charleston flight] allows us to start that process.”

British Airways is using a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner that was built at Boeing’s North Charleston assembly plant for the air service. The plane can hold 214 passengers across three cabins.

The flights will run Thursdays and Sundays, departing Charleston at 10:50 p.m. and arrive at London Heathrow at 11:50 a.m. the next day. The return flight departs London Heathrow at 5:20 p.m. and arrives in Charleston at 9:20 p.m. local time.

The additional travel time required to rent a car and drive to the Myrtle Beach market from Charleston will be a great improvement from the current airport layovers European travelers face en route to Myrtle Beach.

“It definitely opens that door. It really answers a lot of the questions we hear from foreign travelers,” Golden said.

The estimated economic impact generated by the flights, including new job creation and traveler activity, could exceed $20 million annually in tourism, according to Gov. Henry McMaster’s office.

Strand tourism officials plan to work with tourism executives in other areas of the state – particularly Charleston and Hilton Head – to create a combined effort targeting European travelers that could benefit all areas.

Golden said Charleston tourism officials have already reached out to him with a willingness to promote Myrtle Beach for the flights, and he expects golf tour and golf package operators to include Strand courses in their offerings. Schult said he plans to speak to other tourism officials this week regarding options and opportunities.

“That really is a win for the state. It will give people the opportunity to see more in the state than just the Charleston region,” Schult said. “We’re going to do everything we can to work collaboratively with the state and the coastal regions and do our best to get some of those folks into Myrtle Beach, into the area.

“It’s easier for us all to invest smaller sums and have a bigger bang for our investment when we come together and work collaboratively. The state helps lead that charge.”

The state could also receive some national marketing assistance from Brand USA, a public-private organization dedicated to marketing the United States as a premier travel destination.

The S.C. Department of Commerce is contributing about $1.3 million for the air service’s first season to give British Airways incentive and assist with the flights’ costs.

Future nonstop flights to Europe from Charleston or Myrtle Beach might also require either a guarantee or up-front investment, and at least part of that might have to come from the local community.

“That’s always part of the discussion. We try to look at any types of opportunities like that with marketing support versus typical revenue guarantees,” Schult said. “But if the community comes together and it makes sense, that’s the discussion that has to take place if and when that comes up.”

A sufficient amount of traffic to Europe will be required to make the current flight and any future flights successful, and that supply of travelers will likely have to come from more than just the Charleston and Myrtle Beach areas.

“We do have a considerable amount of international travel that originates here,” Golden said. “It comes from a fairly large . . . area so they’re driving from other locations, which will happen in Charleston as well.”

Other airlines will undoubtedly be keeping tabs on British Airways’ flight to see if another transatlantic flight from South Carolina will be warranted.

“Any time you can start off and have success with a transatlantic flight, success will breed success and it gives us the opportunity to be able to grow from that,” Schult said. “This is a win to get us started.”

Myrtle Beach has nonstop flights to 49 locations on 10 airlines. Schult said the number of markets has doubled since 2013, and tourism and airport officials continue to work to add nonstop destinations. A European location might be next.

“At some point our area will be ripe for it, and we’re hoping that will be sooner rather than later,” Schult said. “But at least this one is a start for us to grow some incremental business. We have visitation from there, it’s just not easy to get to and it gets cost prohibitive, so this definitely is a move in the right direction.”