Myrtle Beach strives to attract visitors of all types

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Golfers, families and reunions and convention attendees made up the biggest chunk of the 14 million visitors who experienced Myrtle Beach, S.C., last year, but as the year-round getaway continues to reinvent itself with more attractions, diversions and investments, new markets emerge to tap into its appeal. 

The Myrtle Beach area, popularly known as the Grand Strand, comprises 12 distinct cities stretching along 60 miles of the South Carolina coast.

"Myrtle Beach always is changing, which is one reason it enjoys such a high number of return visitors," said Jean Ann Brakefield, vice president of the Myrtle Beach Area Convention Bureau.

"People come back every few years to see what's new, what's hot and to revisit their old favorites."

The destination's new marketing slogan of "It's not what you bring, it's what you bring back" ties in with the multiplicity of activities and sightseeing options.

With attractions such as 100 golf courses, a children's museum, a reptile park, tidal creek tours, roller coasters, racetracks, theaters, water parks, outlet shopping centers and wildlife sanctuaries, the destination's appeal lies in its diversity.

Currently more than $15 billion is being pumped into the Myrtle Beach area in new construction, renovations and upgrades. New roads alone account for an investment of more than $1 billion.

"The Grand Strand has grown more than 35% in the past 10 years, and it continues to evolve, giving way to a whole new Myrtle Beach area," Brakefield said.

New developments include Hard Rock Park, a 140-acre, rock 'n' roll-themed amusement park affiliated with the Hard Rock Cafe.

Construction began in 2006 with an opening planned for 2008.

The $400 million project calls for the construction of more than 40 attractions, a live-music amphitheater, roller coasters, kids' play areas, restaurants, cafes and retail stores. It is the first Hard Rock Park anywhere in the world.

The next phase of this project could be a Hard Rock Hotel, according to Brakefield.

The Market Common at Myrtle Beach will be the Grand Strand's first pedestrian-friendly urban village, combining residential and retail development with six restaurants, 50 shops, apartments and condominiums and a 16-screen movie complex, all located within one mile of the beach.

Market Common at Myrtle Beach is due to open in late spring 2008.

Brakefield said the Market Common will serve as the urban retail center of Myrtle Beach with a focus on the luxury market.

Flying in

The Grand Strand has airlift that some destinations can only dream about, including scheduled service by Spirit, Delta, Continental, Northwest, US Airways, United Express and Myrtle Beach Direct.

New flights this year include US Airways' daily nonstop service from New York (LaGuardia), Spirit's daily flight from Fort Lauderdale and Myrtle Beach Direct's service from Newark, Pittsburgh and Niagara Falls, N.Y.

Southern Skyways launched twice-weekly service from Allentown, Pa., in March; on May 25, flights will begin from Cincinnati and Charleston, W.Va.

Delta beefed up its seat capacity from Atlanta to Myrtle Beach by 30% for the March-to-September period.

In all, 2,200 passenger seats are available on a daily basis from more than 15 U.S. gateways.

To handle that traffic volume, Myrtle Beach Airport plans a $200 million expansion that will include a three-level terminal complex with 14 gates that can accommodate aircraft as small as commuter jets and as large as wide-bodies.

The current terminal offers several restaurants and shops and wireless Internet connections in the gate areas.

By the numbers

"Our visitor count is expected to top 20 million this year," Brakefield said. "Myrtle Beach already is in the top 10 U.S. destinations in terms of annual visitors. Only Orlando, Las Vegas, San Francisco and New York are ahead of us."

Where do all these visitors stay? At present, the Myrtle Beach area has more than 460 hotels and 82,000 rooms, many of which are condos. New properties include Marriott and Sheraton hotels.

Wyndham Vacation Ownership recently introduced its brand to Myrtle Beach through the reflagging of two of its resorts. Fairfield Myrtle Beach at Ocean Boulevard now is the Wyndham Ocean Boulevard, and the former Fairfield Myrtle Beach at the Cottages now is the Wyndham at the Cottages.

Two more properties will be reflagged as Wyndhams within a year.

All exterior and interior signage, collateral and marketing materials will reflect the Wyndham brand.

Regarding accommodations options in Myrtle Beach, Brakefield said, "It's a big room mix and a wide price range from beachfront resorts to cottages, mom-and-pop motels, brand-name hotels and even campgrounds. We can accommodate visitors in every price range. A new push for us is the more affluent audience, but we don't want to forget our tried-and-true reputation as a family vacation destination."

What the tourism officials also do not overlook is the importance of the travel agent business. In fact, one section of the destination's Web site, MyrtleBeach.travel, is exclusive to the trade.

Consumers who wander onto that page are advised to click on a list of agents who can help plan and book their trips. Meeting planner assistance, group information and trip assistance links also direct business to agents with those specific skills.

Properties that pay commissions are noted, as are special agent rates for individual and group fam trips.

The convention business accounts for 8% of total visitors, and the 250,000-square-foot Myrtle Beach Convention Center is large enough to host more than 75% of the meetings that take place in the U.S. each year, according to Brakefield.

"The center runs at 80% occupancy year-round," she said. "We host multiple smaller groups simultaneously."

The golf market constitutes 12% of annual business in Myrtle Beach. The largest market is families, especially multigenerational bookings planned around reunions.

Vacationers who drive to Myrtle Beach within a 12-hour radius make up 94% of arriving visitors.

The average length of stay for all visitors is 5.2 days.

For more information on Myrtle Beach, visit www.myrtlebeach.travel or call (800) 356-3016.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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