A lot of people working in tourism are responsible for bringing visitors to their hometowns. But few have the pleasure of a hometown as dynamic and appealing as Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Sandy Haines has spent most of her life in Myrtle Beach, save for a short stint in Turkey when her father was stationed at a military base there, and considers it her hometown. So when an opportunity to work at the local chamber of commerce opened up in 1991, she jumped at the chance and began a career that would take her through almost every aspect of the area’s tourism business.
“I’ve been here for 26 years,” she said. “Our convention and visitors bureau is a division of our chamber of commerce. So I actually started as an admin in the membership division, and I worked there for eight years. Then I went to work in our publications division, where I sold ads and worked on our marketing pieces, printing and proofing them. Then I opened up our airport welcome center and oversaw all the ethics in the area. Any complaints that came in about Myrtle Beach, I was the one who handled those.”
After a few years of fielding complaints, she got a chance to move to the bright side of the business when the group tour sales manager position opened up 12 years ago.
“Group sales is absolutely the most fun of the jobs I have had so far,” she said. “I love the relationships I have with our tour operators, as well as the relationships we have in our area. This market is all about relationships.”
Haines told the story of taking a colleague from the CVB’s convention sales department to the American Bus Association (ABA) Marketplace and watching his reaction to the friendliness of the tour and travel community there.
“He couldn’t believe that we were a family and that everyone was hugging each other,” she said. “In the corporate market, it’s all about shaking hands and getting down to business. But we find out about each other’s grandkids and husbands first, and then get down to business.”
Much of Haines’ sales work happens at ABA and other tourism events. Her organization sponsors or attends 15 industry conferences each year, including the Ontario Motor Coach Association and the Travel South Showcase, which it will host in 2019. She spends a lot of her time preparing for and following up after these conferences.
“I do a lot of planning for our trade shows: arranging sponsorships, working with our suppliers, producing videos and making sales calls,” she said. “I also have a sales goal of room nights that we have to reach every year. This year it was just over 40,000 rooms, just in the motorcoach market.”
When she has free time, Haines spends it with family, often traveling to Jacksonville, Florida, to see her new grandchild. But when she’s home in Myrtle Beach, she can often be found introducing her hometown to visiting tour operators and group leaders.
“A lot of my free time goes into hosting FAMs, going to shows, dinners and showing off the town,” she said. “It’s great because a lot of people forget to see what’s in their own backyards.”
All that hard work has contributed to a tourism boom in Myrtle Beach. When she started at the chamber of commerce, Haines said, the city saw around 3 million visitors a year. Now they’re up to 18 million annual visitors, and CVB leaders have set a goal of reaching 20 million visitors in 2020.
When that happens, you can be sure Haines will have a part in that success. And she’ll probably be having more fun than anybody else.
A Sales Tip from Sandy
“If you’re having a hard time filling the coach up, find a partner or another tour operator you can work with. It could be that you have a couple people from one operator and a couple from another.”