Hooters Air Weighs London Flights

S.C. coastal tourism promoters are trying to seal a deal with Hooters Air to start direct flights to London next spring.

Coastal South Carolina USA, which does international marketing for the Grand Strand, Charleston and Hilton Head Island, is urging Myrtle Beach's hometown airline to make that flight over the Atlantic Ocean. It would tap a base of golfers and visitors that spends more and stays longer than travelers within the United States, potentially boosting the $15 billion S.C. tourism industry.

Hooters is considering it but would have to get a bigger plane. The airline also has concerns about the lack of an international check-in at the planned new terminal at Myrtle Beach International Airport, said Mark Peterson, president of Hooters Air. He declined to give more details.

"We aren't ready to announce anything," Peterson said. "We met with a group that has a great program in mind, certainly doable. The potential is there, but there are a lot of things that have to happen before we can institute service like that. It takes airplanes, it takes a schedule."

Coastal South Carolina is optimistic, already working on a marketing plan to promote the proposed flights. It would tap a $1 million fund set aside by the General Assembly for international marketing. The S.C. Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department is spending that money, and earmarked between $75,000 and $100,000 for international flights that Coastal South Carolina could spend.

"We need to get out in front with the marketing," said Mickey McCamish, president of marketing group Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, which is working on the flights with Coastal South Carolina.

The timing is right for targeting tourists from outside the United States because of exchange rates, which make a trip to the U.S. a deal, officials said. About 100 United Kingdom pounds translates into about $175 in U.S. money, and 100 euro equal about $120 in the United States.

International tourists typically stay three times as long and spend at least $43 more per day than domestic visitors, said Elaine Michaud, international travel agent-sales manager at the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

About 1 million of the 30 million people who visit South Carolina annually come from other countries. The flights are a key to growing that number, said Chad Prosser, PRT director.

"That was something that was a priority," he said. "If we had direct service ... it would be successful."

More golfers and tourists would come here if they didn't have to connect through larger airports in New York, Atlanta or Charlotte, N.C., McCamish said.

"We think there is opportunity internationally for sure," said Gary Edwards, managing director of Coastal South Carolina USA. "It's a very, very attractive visitor for us. Access is the biggest obstacle to overcome."

If approved, the flights would start in February, at the earliest, McCamish said. Hooters Air is looking at buying a larger airplane that could be used for a variety of different routes, Peterson said.

"We think international service out of Myrtle Beach would be a huge boon, not just to Myrtle Beach but to South Carolina in general," he said.