Tourism industry braces for hurricane response changes

It's estimated 15 million tourists visit the Grand Strand each year.

June 1 is the official start of the hurricane season, but we've already had two named storms form in the Atlantic. Starting this year, there are changes to the way officials respond to the threat of a hurricane, from the new "Know Your Zone" system, to the elimination of voluntary evacuations.

Tourism is the backbone of the Grand Strand economy. More than half of the jobs in Horry and Georgetown counties depend on beach-goers spending their days on our coast. When forecasters place the Myrtle Beach area in what's called the "cone of uncertainty," it puts visitors on edge.

Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce President Brad Dean says the industry stands to lose up to $30 million a day during the peak of the season.

"When we're placed in the cone of uncertainty days ahead not only does it cause alarm here, but it sends a message to tourists in Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina other areas that they may not want to come to the beach," Dean explains.

He also worries about safety. The new evacuation plan means more people will be leaving on already clogged highways like Highway 501.

"Our first reaction is that this new plan clearly shows the reason why we should have interstate access. Without the proper infrastructure, we can't get people out quickly enough and that forces us to have to evacuate earlier. I-73 would help address a lot of that," says Dean. "There's no area that's seen a greater impact of people moving in, new visitors arriving and yet fewer roads being built than the Grand Strand, so the impact will be felt here more so than anywhere else in the state."

To get word out about the changes to the Grand Srand's hurricane plan, the MBACC plans to distribute the new information at welcome centers across the state, on the web, and on television.

"We'll try to get it in the hands of every visitor, but ultimately it's going to require the assistance from businesses to do that as well," adds Dean.

He agrees with the study and the changes, but says if an evacuation becomes necessary this hurricane season there may be bumps along the way.