A local chamber president on Tuesday told Myrtle Beach City Council that no amount of advertising money can undo the bad publicity the area has received in recent days following a rash of shootings.
Brad Dean, of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, was among dozens who addressed the members of council during an emergency meeting called to address five shootings in three days. One of the shootings, on Sunday, injured eight people and was streamed live in a viral social media post.
“Frankly, we’re doing all we can, but it’s like fighting a forest fire with a garden hose,” said Dean of the chamber’s attempt to counter the negative attention.
Some tourists are saying on social media they will stay away from the area – a least for now. Some said they were particularly worried about Sunday’s shooting being right on Ocean Boulevard and coming on Father’s Day.
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Tyler Humphries, who said he visits every year, said on Facebook he doesn’t know when he’ll be back. Sharon Norman Courchesnem said there was no way she would take her children to the area.
“I refuse to go back,” she said. “Just trashy and crime now.”
For now, however, what kind of impact the shootings will have on the area’s summer tourist season is unknown, Dean said.
It’s difficult to gauge how one incident can impact occupancy demand in the area, said L. Taylor Damonte, a professor and director of the Clay Brittain Jr. Center for Resort Tourism at Coastal Carolina University.
Damonte has been tracking occupancy rates for decades, including for condo rentals. Though violence can impact the demand for visitation, there are a number of factors – holidays, school schedules – that can affect it.
There was one snapshot, however, that Damonte said could show how negative publicity affects demand for lodging. Following shootings during the 2014 Memorial Day weekend that killed three and left others injured, Horry County’s occupancy rate dropped by 2.8 points, by industry standards. And every point accounts for about 356 jobs, he said.
“The so-called Grand Strand is much more dependent on tourism” than much of the rest of the state, Damonte said. “And so if we have a decline in occupancy… it impacts jobs.”
The state’s coffers also could be affected by a downturn – if one happens.
Tourism from Horry County, which includes Myrtle Beach and Conway, among other cities, generates 35 percent of state and local taxes, which includes sales taxes, according to the S.C. Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department’s figures. The county also generates 33 percent of the state accommodation tax collection.
Gov. Henry McMaster, who was already scheduled to be in town Thursday, has asked State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel to set up a meeting with the Grand Strand’s law enforcement agencies, said Brian Symmes, McMaster’s spokesman.
“The goal of the meeting is to coordinate efforts and to make available state resources if necessary,” Symmes said. He said it was too soon to discuss what resources would be deployed to the area, but stressed that the safety of tourists and South Carolinians was McMaster’s priority.
But public safety efforts in the area are ongoing, said George DuRant, senior vice president of tourism development at the North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce.
“This just shines an unnecessary light on the fact that there are challenges, as there are with any city,” DuRant said. “This is an isolated incident.”
Staff writer Teddy Kulmala contributed to this story.