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Tourism: County fares well with Myrtle Beach, study shows

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Myrtle Beach is still Georgetown County’s top competitor when it comes to luring visitors, but Georgetown County is gaining ground, according to a recent study.

About 24 percent of visitors and the same amount of non-visitors who requested information about the county, marketed as the Hammock Coast, in the last year were also considering Myrtle Beach as a destination, the study said.

Of those who chose to go somewhere other than Hammock Coast, 13 percent chose Myrtle Beach. But that’s down from 20 percent the previous year, said Ralph Thompson, president of eBrains, the firm that handles the county’s online marketing.

He presented the study, which focused on the effectiveness of the county’s tourism advertising, to the county Tourism Management Commission last week.

Thompson also reported that eBrains’ efforts resulted in $4.3 million in visitor spending — $1.3 million more than the firm promised to deliver.

Prepared by Texas A&M University, the study gave a profile of who is coming to the Hammock Coast, how much they’re spending, where they’re staying and for how long, as well as why those who didn’t visit went somewhere else or didn’t travel at all. Of 115,307 people who were invited to fill out surveys for the study, 848 usable responses were obtained.

Based on the results, eBrains is recommending a program focused on baby boomers, who spend more money on vacations and tend to fund multi-generational vacations.

“The name Hammock Coast connects well with boomers and a program that leverages that will give you more visitor spending and a larger party size,” Thompson said.

Of visitors who responded to the survey, 55 percent were 55 and older, and more than a quarter had a household income between $65,000 and $95,000. The median household income was $75,000 to $84,000.

Compared to last year, the number of baby boomers included in the visitor profile grew by 20 percent while the number of “gen X-ers” dropped 20 percent.

Of those counted in the study, 23 percent who visited the Hammock Coast recalled receiving visitor information through leads from eBrains in 2011 and 30 percent through eBrains leads predating that.

Their average spending was $1,270 per travel party. About 40 percent of visitors surveyed said they would have visited Hammock Coast even if they hadn’t received the information.

The average travel party size was up slightly to 3.2 adults and .9 children. Almost 90 percent of visitors drove to Hammock Coast and less than one-tenth lived less than 100 miles away. Most, about 34 percent, lived 251 to 500 miles away.

As for lodgings, about 37 percent stayed in hotels or motels, 27 percent used condos or timeshares, 13 percent stayed in private homes and 10 percent rented homes. About 2 percent said they camped or stayed in an RV.

Most visitors came for general vacations. The commission asked eBrains last year to add golf as a primary reason for visiting. While a small number of people selected golf as the reason for their visit in the last year, a large number who came for other reasons said they played golf while here.

The top five states visitors came from were South Carolina, Virginia, North Carolina, New York and Pennsylvania.

Just under half of all visitors and 67 percent of non-visitors were considering other destinations when they requested information about the Hammock Coast. Next to Myrtle Beach, Charleston is the biggest competitor for potential visitors to Georgetown County. Of people surveyed who considered a trip to Hammock Coast, but went elsewhere, 7 percent went to Charleston. Orlando and Hilton Head also made the list, and Savannah showed up in the top five for the first time.

Non-visitors listed not having enough time for a trip (16 percent), cost (10 percent), not enough information (8 percent), distance (3 percent), choosing another destination (2 percent) and lack of attractions (1 percent) as the reasons they didn’t visit Hammock Coast.

Almost half of non-visitors plan to visit in the future.

The results of the study show the commission’s efforts are paying off, Thompson said. Other recommendations for the commission include better data collection and catering to mobile devices.

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