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Travel Promotion Act Would Court Foreign Tourists to Myrtle Beach Area

Carolina Headlines - Tourism

MYRTLE BEACH – The U.S. Senate approved travel promotion legislation this week that Grand Strand leaders say could translate into more foreign visitors on local beaches.

The Travel Promotion Act of 2009, now headed to the House, would establish a nonprofit corporation to inform foreigners of American entry policies and promote leisure, business, and scholarly travel to the United States.

Promotion funding would come from private sector contributions and a US$10 fee for international travelers who do not pay $131 for a visa to enter the United States.

"This important piece of legislation re-establishes our ability to promote our nation as a great travel destination and protects tourism by growing international travel," said Brad Dean, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. "The act helps level the playing field for smaller destinations like South Carolina when competing with larger destinations like Florida and California. For the Myrtle Beach area, the measure addresses concerns from our Canadian and European visitors."

Wendy Bernstein, a marketing research manager from the chamber, said the chamber does not keep track of how many international visitors come to the Myrtle Beach area.

In 2007, the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism estimated 80,000 foreign travelers came to South Carolina. That estimate did not include travelers from Canada and Mexico.

About 852,400 Canadians visited South Carolina that year, Nancy Gray, a spokeswoman for the chamber, said, citing statewide statistics.

Visitors from Germany and the United Kingdom made up the two largest groups, Bernstein said.

"We can't compete internationally with Orlando, Las Vegas and New York, but for the size of our destination, we do get a significant number" of foreign travelers, said Bill Golden, president of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, a marketing group. "If executed as they say they will, it will only assist that effort."

The area wants to be more aggressive in international promotions, and this act will serve as a supplement, he said.

"Certainly we know golf is popular there, but there's other things, with shopping and the restaurants, that need to be reintroduced so that they can see how we've matured and evolved as a destination," Golden said.

Gary Edwards, managing director of Coastal South Carolina USA, said he will be watching carefully to make sure it's not purely a promotion act to benefit "New York, Disney and California." Coastal South Carolina USA is a consortium of convention and visitors bureaus and private sector firms that promote international travel to Myrtle Beach, Charleston and Hilton Head Island.

"We know all of the players in the Department of Commerce [that are working with the program] and we will be standing there taking advantage of any opportunity that this presents us," he said.

Oxford Economics estimated that if done correctly, the proposed promotion program could attract 1.6 million new international visitors and would generate $4 billion in new economic stimulus and $321 million in new federal tax revenue each year.

The U.S. Travel Association estimated that the program would create nearly 40,000 new American jobs in the first year.

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