State, city leaders work on new plans for new visitors

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - State leaders are focusing on finding ways to draw in a new crowd, at the Governor's Conference on Tourism and Travel in Hilton Head, a three-day conference and the largest in the Palmetto state.

State leaders say South Carolina brought in $18 billion dollars from tourism in 2013, and their goal is onward and upward.  The Myrtle Beach area plans to surpass last year's record-breaking numbers by continuing to expand marketing outside our area.

The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce says it's about finding creative platforms to bring in future guests, like sponsoring events in target regions such as Kentucky, which is why this September's NASCAR race is now headlined, "The 300."

While Ohio comes in as one of the top 10 states for visitors to the Grand Strand, we don't see as many people come from its neighbor states, Kentucky and Indiana, which means the race may be another way to drive in first time visitors.

"We had currently been marketing in that area- the Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio area. It's just a region that we want to grow and we saw this as a unique way to do that," says Brad Dickerson of the Chamber of Commerce.  " NASCAR fans and our visitor demographics mesh well together."

Other marketing strategies include using cold weather as a way to advertise a trip to the beach, especially in the northeast, from Baltimore up.

Digital marketing will continue to be a main focus for the chamber; they say they've already seen double-digit growth on the Visit Myrtle Beach website, since the start of the new year.

One topic on tap for the Governor's conference will be promoting areas that may not be as visited as the beach, like the River Walk and Historic District in Conway.

The director of the State Tourism department, Duane Parrish says low gas prices may help us see a record number of visitors this year because 80% of Grand Strand vacationers drive.

With an average price of $3.06, in Myrtle Beach, according to AAA, visitors are more inclined to drive. AAA says we can expect to see those numbers hike in the next month.

"We expect gas prices to start rising over the next month as refineries conduct their seasonal maintenance. During this time, the refineries' productivity is reduced, which tightens the supply," says AAA. "Last year we saw gas prices start to rise at the end of January and peaked on Feb. 21 at $3.60 before falling. That was the high for the year. We expect the same trend to happen again this year."

Gas Buddy analysts expect the average price for 2014 to fall about 10-cents-a-gallon lower than the previous year's average.

Springmaid Pier says their top travelers come from the Carolinas, so gas price plays an impact on sales. They say bookings started off slow in January due to the winter storms.

"They started out slow and I think the reason why, is the weather. When I say weather- busted pipes, things like that, people are having to spend money on those types of items instead of vacation planning," says Marketing Manager Donald Hovis.

The hotel uses social media to test vacationer response.  They recently unveiled a blitz sale, quick offers for deeply discounted rates, the reaction was strong and the hotel predicts as tax refunds pour in, bookings will as well.

Local hotels say Easter is the unofficial start of tourism season. Since the holiday falls about a month later from last year, numbers for March may be low in hotels and restaurants but our area can expect a rise in numbers in April.

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