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      Horry County owes WestJet approximately $570,000

      Because of a clause in a revenue agreement with WestJet, Horry County will owe the airline approximately $570,000.

      WestJet flights between Myrtle Beach and Toronto started last May.

      Horry County announced Friday that the money owed was due to a Revenue Guaranty Agreement, which ensured WestJet at 15% profit margin on operations between Myrtle Beach International (MYR) and Toronto (YYZ) for a period of six months.

      The amount was not to exceed $1 million.

      The county said the exact amount owed to WestJet would not be available until late December.

      "Although this first season was not as strong as we had hoped, WestJet did open Myrtle Beach to new markets across Canada," said Chris Eldridge, Horry County Administrator. "The relationship between MYR, WestJet and the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce is one that can be used to enhance the diversification of our tourism base and flight services. Horry County is currently exploring alternate means of funding the agreement with the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. Any future financial arrangements will be directly between WestJet and the Chamber."

      The county reported Friday that, based on WestJet's passenger numbers, the airline flew more than 3,200 passengers to MYR between May and August, "During August 2013, the airline flew more people to the market than any previous month; almost 1,060 passengers or the equivalent - of having 85 of every 100 seats occupied (85 percent load factor)."

      "The airport regularly monitors westjet.com to ensure airfares being offered are reasonably priced. Our latest evaluation, based on travel between October 10 and October 17, 2013, found that a person wanting to visit Myrtle Beach can fly round trip between YYZ and MYR for as low as $424.29, including all taxes, fees and charges, or less than $0.32 cents per flight mile" said Kirk Lovell, Marketing Director for Horry County Department of Airports.

      The county also released the following data the airport learned after surveying WestJet's passengers prior to departing MYR.

      • 59 percent of passengers flying WestJet have never visited the Grand Strand - first time visitors;
      • 63 percent of first time visitors stayed in the Grand Strand for more than 7 days;
      • 54 percent of first time visitors reported having a household income in excess of $100,000;
      • Based on MYR surveys conducted on WestJet passengers, it is estimated that first time visitors had a $6.64 million economic impact in Horry County;
      • While visiting in Myrtle Beach first time visitors enjoyed the beach, miniature golf, dining, shopping, the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk, area amusements and more.

      "Our community has benefited immensely through WestJet's promotion of our destination brand as well as the incremental economic impact, which is substantial," stated Brad Dean, President & CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. "We continue to work with WestJet to optimize their 2013 passenger count and have begun the planning process for what we expect will be even better results in 2014."

      "Despite the slow start we are optimistic WestJet will return for its second season starting May 2014," said Pat Apone, Interim Director of Airports for Horry County Department of Airports. "While WestJet has not confirmed it will return, we believe the airline will be back as tickets for May 2014 service are now available for purchase at westjet.com."

      WestJet's season at MYR will end later this month.