CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina, after tens of millions of dollars in tourism losses due to this month's historic rains, is working assure visitors that the state's coast is open again for fall vacations.
Myrtle Beach, Charleston and the state are mounting media campaigns with television, print, Internet and social media letting visitors know tourist destinations are open, as are the roads leading to the coast.
The theme of the state campaign gearing up this week and featuring a television ad voiced by Gov. Nikki Haley is "Our Coast is Clear." The state will also use the theme "Want to Help South Carolina? Take a Vacation."
The coast is the heart of the state's $18 billion tourism industry, which took a hit when as much as 2 feet of rain fell in some areas earlier this month. The rain first caused visitors to cancel reservations and then, when skies cleared, flooded roads made it hard to get to the coast.
State officials estimate the disruption caused the industry as much as $10 million a day.
Hotel occupancy statewide last week was down 8.4 percent compared to a year ago. In the Myrtle Beach area it was down 19 percent, while in downtown Charleston and the city's West Ashley section it tumbled 25 percent, according to figures from STR Inc., a company that tracks tourism trends.
"Initially the question was: 'Are you open for business?' The answer was 'Yes,'" said Brad Dean, the president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. "Then the question became, 'If you are still open, can I get there?'"
"Seventy-five percent of our visitors travel on I-95 and that presented a challenge," Dean added. The interstate linking Maine and Miami was closed in the state for more than a week following the storm as bridges were repaired. It finally reopened completely on Tuesday.
Myrtle Beach is expanding a broadcast campaign in 70 markets, still urging people to come to the beach for a fall vacation. "But we tweaked that message to assure those who were considering booking that you can get to Myrtle Beach quickly and safely."
The state this week is replacing its existing ads with those for the coastal campaign.
"It's been difficult and honestly a lot of it is perception," said Duane Parrish, the director of the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. He said some of the media coverage made it look as though the entire state had been washed away.
"We've had groups cancel their vacations and we have even had people cancel in November," he said. The challenge, he added, is to let people now that the coast is in good shape.
"We really concentrated on letting people know that while we certainly had flooding here it wasn't the kind that damaged businesses," said Perrin Lawson, the deputy director of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. "The flooding downtown was more of an issue of access rather than damage."