Source: The Sun News
By Alan Blondin - email@example.com
Those in the Myrtle Beach golf community have always considered themselves atop the leaderboard in the national competition for rounds and notoriety as a golf destination.
A study by the National Golf Foundation suggests others see the Grand Strand in the same light.
According to the NGF study, which was commissioned by marketing cooperative Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, Myrtle Beach is as popular as any other destination among golfers in the eastern two-thirds of the United States and manages to retain its customers better than any other location.
Among golf travelers in the Myrtle Beach target markets - seven regions that encompass the entire East Coast, Gulf Coast, Midwest and Southwest - the Strand and Orlando, Fla., were tied for the destination most visited, attracting 54 percent of respondents. Nine destinations featured in the study included Hilton Head Island; Pinehurst, N.C.; the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama; Phoenix/Scottsdale, Ariz.; Las Vegas; and Tampa/Fort Myers, Fla.
Those respondents averaged 5.2 golf trips to Myrtle Beach, which were at least 1.5 trips more than travelers averaged to any other destination. Travelers visiting Orlando averaged 3.3 golf trips. Vacationers cited affordability, quality and selection, location and additional attractions for their affinity to Strand golf. Weather was the primary detractor compared with other destinations.
"I think the part that gets us excited is how well our brand [fares] in the marketplace," Golf Holiday president Bill Golden said. "We see the effects of the economy and see what's happening here, but the reality is we're very lucky to be in Myrtle Beach in terms of destinations.
"As good as that is, we have more work to do. We know total rounds are down, and how are we going to increase those rounds?"
A conversion study was conducted in September, when 8,256 people who contacted Golf Holiday or visited the organization's site in the past six months were surveyed online.
More than 70,000 people visited the Golf Holiday Web site or requested information from Golf Holiday between January and August.
Golfers frequently followed through on their inquiries. According to the NGF study, 29 percent either traveled to Myrtle Beach in the past six months or plan to in the next six months. Myrtle Beach is not in the plans of 43 percent who went or plan to go elsewhere, and 28 percent won't travel in the study's allotted 12 months.
"You've got a terrific franchise that has been well-promoted and marketed, and on the same hand, you've got opportunities for growth because you've got very high interest levels among people who haven't been here," Beditz said. "This destination has not only achieved a lot, it's still got legs."
Rounds played nationally are up 5 percent in 2009 compared with 2008, but the increases aren't coming from travelers. The NGF estimates there has been a 26 percent drop in overall golf trips made by golfers east of the Mississippi River this year. But surveys indicate golf travel should increase 15 percent in 2010, and the Strand should get a fair chunk of that. "Myrtle Beach is well-positioned to get its normal big share of that travel," Beditz said.
It can use it. Some course operators will find little solace in the rosy picture painted of the Strand's national image by the NGF study. Golden said paid rounds on the Grand Strand are down 13 percent this year through October compared with 2008, based on a per-round transaction fee collected from package and walk-on rounds by Golf Holiday from area courses. The numbers are buoyed by minimal increases in September and October.
How can Myrtle Beach increase its rounds? Golden will focus largely on continuing to promote more direct flights to Myrtle Beach and pound the markets featuring those flights with marketing and advertising campaigns. Porter Airlines recently announced a direct flight to Toronto, Spirit has daily direct flights to Boston and Chicago, and Myrtle Beach Direct Air flies directly to several key golf markets.
Golf Holiday is expecting a budget increase of 20 percent to 25 percent for the spring campaign with an additional $1 million anticipated this year in matching tourism funds from the state government. "Those new dollars are going to be allocated across the board, but really with an emphasis on those markets where we've got that nonstop service," Golden said. "Even in some of the markets where we have good service, we're learning that people may not be aware of it completely."