It’s Your Money: New company hired to help attract tourists to Grand Strand

It’s Your Money: New company hired to help attract tourists to Grand Strand

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce recently budgeted around $350,000 for a research initiative aimed at identifying strengths, weaknesses and gaps in branding for the area.

The chamber announced in July that it hired the agency, MMGY, to lead the organization’s brand positioning research.

Karen Riordan, president and CEO of Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said this is the first time the Chamber has decided to conduct this type of research.

“I think it’s critical because the competition is just so robust and honestly from coming out of the market, having been a competitor to Myrtle Beach in Virginia, I can tell you a lot of other destinations look to Myrtle Beach and what we’re doing and they're always trying to steal our market share, so we have to stay at the top of our game,” Riordan said.

MMGY will conduct quantitative research to create a plan to present to the chamber on what necessary changes to make to stay relevant.

Riordan explained there are always new types of tourists the chamber can work to attract through advertising.

“They have new expectations all the time about what they want from a vacation. We can’t just stay stagnant, we have to keep improving and we have to keep evolving our message to find out what’s going to connect with visitors,” she said.

Riordan said the cost of the project came in under the $350,000 budget. She said the chamber reallocated money for the new initiative but cutting other, less critical programs.

“We just cut them from the budget and then we were able to basically take line item over here of some money and put it over to a new project, like this brand positioning project,” she explained.

The chamber received around $27 million in 2018 from local governments, which made up just less than half of its overall $57 million budget, according to December 2018 financial statements.

The contributions from Myrtle Beach, Horry County and Surfside Beach is generated from the Accommodations Tax and the Tourism Development Fee (TDF), taxes mainly paid by tourists.

The other half of the organization’s funding is from grants, membership dues, programs and advertising sales.

Riordan explained investing in MMGY and the brand research is just part of a five-year plan the chamber is creating for 2020-2025.

The chamber is looking at 2019 as a building year. Part of the rebuilding is rebidding out contracts for numerous other business from social media work to landscaping to the call center.

Riordan said reevaluating contracts will allow the area to not fall behind other beach destinations.

“If you’re not doing well and improving and increasing that… essentially means somebody else is taking your market share, they’re not coming to you, they’re coming to somebody else,” Riordan said.

In the past, the chamber received criticism for its process of awarding contracts including a 2018 lawsuit that alleged the chamber failed to hold a public bidding process before allocating tourism related taxes and failed to report funds on a quarterly basis.

The lawsuit was dropped earlier this year.

“I know with the accusations that have been brought against us in the past, people do care about knowing that we are doing our very best to spend money well and that we are not just handing out contracts like lollipops and we never were and we’re absolutely through this process making sure that can never happen,” Riordan said.

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