Mayor John Rhodes and Area Chamber of Commerce President Brad Dean of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, attended the 10th Annual China-US Tourism Leadership Summit in Yinchuan, China. The Summit, held in September 2016, came shortly after Chinese investors toured Myrtle Beach and visited Coastal Carolina University. Rhodes and Dean hoped to attract Chinese visitors to South Carolina’s coast, known as the Grand Strand, and sustain their state’s $19 billion tourism market.
The Summit delegation is the most recent manifestation of the region’s goal to increase tourism from China. Earlier this year, Mayor Rhodes and Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus met with business leaders in China and reached a $100 million deal to build a Chinese cultural theme park in Myrtle Beach. In 2011, Asian visitors brought $142 million in revenue to the state’s 7th district, which includes Myrtle Beach; overall, visitors from Asia contributed $506 million to the state economy that year. Given China’s recent interest in Myrtle Beach, and the efforts to start a direct flight route from China to neighboring Georgia, these figures have the potential to rise. Rhodes and Lazarus suggested that Chinese tourism will not only create jobs for local people, but also generate funds for redevelopment projects in the community.
Tourism is only one area of exchange between China and South Carolina. Chinese manufacturing companies like Keer Group, JN Fibers, and TDC Cutting Tools have invested in the state by building new plants and creating new jobs for local workers. Meanwhile, South Carolina is providing more than travel services to China, its highest export partner. The value of total exports from South Carolina to China was $3.3 billion in 2012 and grew to $4.4 billion in 2015.
The year 2016 is officially US-China Tourism Year. South Carolina has joined states like Nevada and Florida that are capitalizing on this initiative by promoting their tourist destinations in China. China leads the world in number of outbound tourists and amount of overseas spending. Furthermore, total consumption by Chinese tourists in the US each day averaged $74 million in 2015. States and local economies across the US are understandably eager to attract a share of that.
Kim Meihua Roy is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a student at Brigham Young University.