|By Dawn Bryant, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Aug. 13, 2005 - The trade group for the beach's tourism industry is trying to find its place.
The Myrtle Beach Area Hospitality Association - in the hunt for its second executive director this year - is sorting through changes in funding, leadership and its role serving the area's largest industry.
It plans to drop services that other groups already provide, including trade-show participation, and focus on filling the needs of its 500-plus members through legislative updates, educational sessions and networking opportunities, association leaders said.
The association must figure out how it fits amid the other groups serving the $5 billion local tourism industry. The largest is the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, which has about 2,300 members.
The association's mission is to promote the industry's needs, ensure a healthy tour- ism economy and educate its members and the public about industry issues.
"I think we know what we are going to be, we just need to figure out how to do it," said Gary Loftus, the association's chairman. "We are going to regroup and get more focused on what we are supposed to be."
The association, which has existed since 1974, has been forced to find focus after the December departure of Martha Hunn, who guided the group for nearly a decade. Hunn returned to WBTW as a news anchor.
Katherine Jenerette came on board but left after five months, citing personal reasons. She resigned July 20.
The association's board of directors had grown to rely on Hunn's leadership, and has had to step up and take a more active role, President Scott Harrelson said.
"It's a great opportunity for us to look at what we can do to enhance benefits to the members," he said. "We've just been forced to do it more aggressively in the last six months."
The association plans to drop activities such as marketing and attending trade shows, and leave that up to the Myrtle Beach chamber, the area's main tourism promoter.
The association also plans to end its central reservations system in September, partly because it has outlived its usefulness. Most visitors don't need that system, now that most hotels have toll-free numbers or Internet sites, Harrelson said.
The chamber also told the association it would no longer provide $82,000 to cover some of the reservation system's cost. Chamber members didn't want such a service, President Brad Dean said.
"The answer was always positively, unequivocally, 'No. Don't worry about booking the business,'" he said.
The reinvented association will focus on serving members' needs by keeping them updated on legislative issues and sponsoring training sessions, Harrelson said.
Association and chamber leaders talked about avoiding duplication to make the limited amount of marketing dollars go further.
"We need to be more efficient in how we invest our time, money and effort," said Wayne Gray, chairman of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. "What we all recognize is that there is duplication."
Meanwhile, ads for the association's vacant position will hit publications in the Carolinas and a national magazine for association executives this month, Harrelson said.
"[We want] somebody that is good with people and can understand the needs of our members," he said. "We are going to go until we find the right person.
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