Billion dollar vacations

Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes says when it comes to tourism numbers, Myrtle Beach is a powerhouse only behind Las Vegas and Orlando. With every new and repeat visitor to the Grand Strand, a ripple effect is created.

The tourism industry took a hit during the recession, but new figures show direct visitor spending last year totaled $4.3 billion.

"Visitor spending is about 96% of where it was in that period. So what it shows is tourism has almost fully recovered from the depths of the recession, which is very different compared to construction and real estate," explains economist Dr. Rob Salvino.

He says gains in tourism are helping offset the under-performing construction and real estate industry. That sector is only at about 70% percent of pre-recession levels.

The tourism study done by the BB&T Center for Economic and Community Development shows tourist dollars support 73,500 jobs in Horry and Georgetown counties. Those jobs make up 53% of total employment. Last year, tourists generated $433 million in tax revenue, and officials say $166 million remained at the local level.

Promoting the economic benefits of travel was the focus of a national bus tour by the U.S. Travel Association. Since mid-March, they've stopped at dozens of tourist destinations across the country. Thursday they stopped on the Grand Strand.

"It's a little bit of a play on the election year campaign. We're not asking people to vote Democrat or Republican. We're asking them to vote travel. Because a vote for travel is a vote for Myrtle Beach, it's a vote for South Carolina, and it's a vote for the U.S. economy," says Cathy Keefe.

Specifically for the Grand Strand, officials say the total economic impact of out-of-town dollars is more than $6 billion.

"Travel and tourism contributes $1.9 trillion to the U.S. economy. It supports 14 million jobs nationwide. These are jobs that can't be outsourced," explains Keefe.

As the country still struggles to get back on its feet, officials say family road trips are one way to help everyone.