Last June 9th, just after Myrtle Beach Mayor (John Rhodes), City Manager (John Pedersen), and all of City Council voted to allow the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce complete control of almost $30 million in tax dollars that the city collects from tourists and each of us annually, City Spokesperson, Mark Kruea went on two local T.V. News channels ABC WPDE TV channel 15 and NBC WMBFnews TV channel 10 to report that Myrtle Beach had experienced an almost 2 million tourist increase moving from 15 million tourists to just over 17.2 million.
Here are the links to those stories: WPDE and WMBFnews. Dawn Bryant, reporter for the local Sun News, ran an entirely different story, however, stating that the numbers for 2014 were mixed. The story has since been archived, but you can find a copy of that story, picked up by Skift, in the previous link. CBS affiliate WBTW 13 would not (did not) run the story. Examining the numbers below, WBTW’s reasons become clear.
Below are how the numbers square up with the city’s own financials and traffic numbers:
NOTE – FIRST GRAPH ABOVE: PASSENGERS TO MB AIRPORT WERE HIGHER IN 2010 AND 2011 than in 2014. THE CHAMBER ONLY REPORTED 15 MILLION TOURISTS OR LESS IN THOSE YEARS.
NOTE – GRAPH TWO IN ALL BLUE JUST ABOVE: GREATER RETAIL SALES IN 2007 THAN 2014. THE CHAMBER ONLY REPORTED 15 MILLION TOURISTS IN 2007. APPROXIMATELY SAME RETAIL SALES IN 2006 WHEN THE CHAMBER ALSO REPORTED ONLY 15 MILLION TOURISTS.
After the city ran the story on local TV, we asked Jim Caldwell [JCaldwell@dksa.com] of DKSA.com to explain how the city could possibly have 2 million more tourists with no increases in sales revenue. DKSA.com is the research firm the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber hires to report tourism numbers. Simply studying the report above, a 25% increase (two million additional tourists) should have equaled as much as a $2.2 billion increase in sales revenue. Jim never returned one call and he never responded to any email requests at the email posted above.
We also reached out to Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce President Brad Dean. However, with the ongoing six year FBI investigation of his part in handing $324,000 in suspicious cashiers checks to local and state politicians, Brad is less and less inclined to respond to requests as these. Brad is also less seldom seen on camera as a spokesperson for any such matter. In fact, for reasons unknown, Mark Kruea, of the City of Myrtle Beach, reported these glowing numbers.
Comments to us from the business community questioned why the Chamber President would not want full credit for such a glowing report?
We reached out to Mark Kruea of the city, who referred us to Jim Caldwell. Just this week, Mark refused to confirm or stand behind the numbers of the very report he gave on air last June 9th. As of this post, he has not responded to our request for him to confirm or denounce these numbers.
TAX PAYER FUNDED LOCAL MEDIA?
We then reached out to Billy Huggins whose station WPDE ran the report. Billy is the Station Manager for ABC WPDE News 15. He also sits on the powerful finance committee of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber of Commerce pays WPDE millions of dollars to promote and advertise the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber locally. It is an important part of WPDE’s annual budget.
We asked Billy if he or his station would stand behind the 17.2 million tourist figure? We received no comment. We asked him, if, as a Myrtle Beach Chamber Board Member who is very familiar with the inner workings of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber, would he stand behind this 17.2 million tourist number? We received no comment.
We asked Billy Huggins if the funds paid to WPDE from the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce were from membership dues or if they were paid as a portion of the advertising tax funds collected by the city of Myrtle Beach? Mr. Huggins refused a direct response. He stated the following global response instead, “Let me be clear. WPDE ABC 15 does not receive public funds from the Myrtle Beach Chamber. I do not believe any local TV station receives public funds.”
The facts and Mr. Huggins statements are unclear as the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce has refused a FOIA request from a state watchdog group managed by Skip Hoagland which would allow a five year audit of their accounts. Both WMBFnews and WPDE are paid millions by the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. As tax funds are awarded to the Chamber of Commerce every year by a motion from the city of Myrtle Beach, the numbers our research team pulled left a wide gap as to what funds actually came from what accounts.
As we do operate our own, independent news source, we questioned WPDE’s legal team, with a direct email to William C Bell, Sinclair Legal Council, at the email address posted here (firstname.lastname@example.org) as to whether he believes his news organization can receive such funds and not be compromised in how it covers news relating to the city of Myrtle Beach or the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. As of today’s post, we have not heard back from Mr. Bell or anyone at Sinclair Broadcasting, the parent company of ABC WPDE TV 15.
Perhaps if our readers were to reach out to Mr. Bell at his Sinclair Broadcasting email above, we could all finally get his thoughts on this.
Campaign of Lies?
Just this past Fall, councilman Philip Render and councilman Mike Chestnut ran a vigorous post card campaign promoting the 17.2 million tourist figure as an accomplishment of and on behalf of the city. As a matter of record, our team questioned the numbers in June to City Manager, John Pedersen and all of city council immediately as they were being reported as facts by Mark Kruea.
No one from City Council, the City Manager, nor the Mayor ever responded to our emails and concerns, even though this group is elected by each of us to be the “watch dogs” over the millions in taxes they grant the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. In fact, we pay these officials to hold the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce accountable.
Despite our concerns in June, just a few months later in October, these two incumbents were in the mail touting these numbers as facts. As we prepared this story, we emailed each and asked them both if they would “on the record” stand behind these 17.2 million tourist numbers put out by the city and posted by the Chamber of Commerce? Neither replied to our team.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Since the six year inception of the Tourist Tax (ad tax) the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce has spent over $200 million of our tax dollars. These tax dollars could have gone into the hands of local merchants as consumer spending. As every family has a limited amount of money they can spend while visiting us, these tax dollars actually compete against consumer spending if Myrtle Beach does not grow its customer base. The current cost of acquiring one new customer (customer acquisition costs) for the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber is well over $200 million for every new customer that visits Myrtle Beach. No private business could stay in business with such numbers.
Financial records above indicate that the city more likely did 15.2 million tourists in 2014. In the six year period that this tax has been collected, there have been no increases at all in visiting tourists. Over $200 million dollars and not one new tourist?
Since our state politicians, WMBF, WPDE, and our local city government are all in on the money grab, we will likely have no one holding the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce accountable anytime in the foreseeable future.
IN OUR FEATURE STORY EARLY NEXT WEEK – CHINESE NATIONALS TAKE CONTROL OF OCEAN BOULEVARD AND THE CITY OF MYRTLE BEACH, it will become more apparent what the marriage between the City of Myrtle Beach and the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber has really been all about all along; why no one in government cares if the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber produces; and where we citizens are heading as a result of such.