There’s no denying the golf package model that has been so good to the Myrtle Beach market is not as effective as it once was. There are actually multiple factors affecting the downward trajectory in recent years. While everyone is (and should be) interested in preserving this service, most are not looking at all the factors involved.
The Aging Out Of Clientele
One very obvious factor affecting the golf package service in Myrtle Beach is the age of the golfers who made it so effective in the beginning. Two to three decades ago before the internet and all its search components and tools were commonplace, golfers relied upon the services of golf directors to help with booking tee times and lodging out of shear necessity. Taking on the responsibility to book tee times and lodging for any group required extensive knowledge of the courses and their location relative to lodging…not to mention the time to call the courses and coordinate the trip. The golf packaging service was certainly an answer, and consequently, in demand. The older golfers who helped to support this service are playing less, traveling less, and (as we call it) aging out of our industry. This seems to be the only factor companies are considering. While a major contributing factor, it is by far not the only reason.
The Internet Effect
Online booking tools and savvy internet users have evolved rapidly over the last few years. Finding lodging and nearby courses is a breeze with google maps, gps services, and hotel booking tools galore. It’s very easy to find “the best deal” for lodging today. Online tee time booking tools have been later to the scene, but extremely impacting. The ability to book larger groups and look at a variety of available tee times has made planning a golf vacation much easier than in the early days of the evolving golf package industry. This is evolution. It will not stop. It will only become more and more commonplace.
Competition and Over-Serving A Market
Like any other business in America, perceived success creates competition. More and more hotels created golf package / golf director positions to take advantage of the growing golf market. New and better tools were developed to make accessing and booking the golf courses inventory easier. Third party golf package companies sprang up to get in on the golf booking action taking advantage of said new and better tools. When times were good we built more and more golf courses and more package companies were justified. Over the past 20+ years we’ve lost 20+ golf courses in the Myrtle Beach market due to a flat golf economy and have failed to increase market share…more on that later.
Perhaps one of the most overlooked problems related to the golf package industry is the tool that has been the driver for so many years. That tool…email marketing. The clamor to collect and protect the coveted email database became a high priority in growing one’s golf package business. As golfers moved around the industry, email databases have become less unique to the packager. Having so many companies essentially blasting the same golfers has resulted in creating an extremely ineffective tool. Couple our own over use with a marketing tool (email marketing) that has been declining rapidly for the past ten years, and….you get the idea. Email databases globally are declining at a rate of 2.7% to 2.9% monthly. That relates to an annual decrease of at least 30%. Most companies have failed to utilize online marketing tools to create new business. Failing to grow one’s database at the same or higher rate…and failing to create ways to find new business… is a recipe for failure.
With increased competition for the same or even fewer rounds, golf packagers leaned on the courses for lower rates to increase their own profits. With courses already struggling to cover basic operational expenses, the last thing needed was for them to take less money for their product. Somewhere we lost focus on the real reason golfers come to Myrtle Beach. They do not come here to stay in a hotel, they come here to play golf. Allowing our courses to offer a stellar product should always be the focus. Golf packagers created the discount atmosphere that that has plagued our industry for the past decade…or more. Advertising discounts will ALWAYS result in a race to the bottom. No one wins that race.
The result of all of the above is an industry (golf package industry) that relies on making the majority of its income in just over 4 months a year on ridiculously low margins. No one in their right mind would consider starting a business in this environment. So why are we devoting so many resources trying to fix an out of date and over populated industry using (once state-of-the-art, but now) obsolete tools? Myrtle Beach should be leading the golf industry in solving these issues by introducing new technology and new ideas to help the courses. The tools are available, but the mentality here seems to be lagging behind. Consequently, the leaders in this industry have failed to keep the courses’ best interest in the forefront by focusing their resources on the hotels and package providers. The result….we’ve spent tens of millions of marketing dollars to still be in this stagnant position…without any measurable increase in market share.
The answer is simple. The golf courses need to acquire the tools / technology necessary to succeed and take advantage of the evolution of online booking. Our success as an industry lies right there. The package industry will sort itself out. Those forward thinkers will find ways to remain relevant. Those who refuse to (or who are not capable to) adapt will struggle or go our of business. Isn’t that the way capitalism, free enterprise, competition, and survival of the fittest works? Bottom line, we can’t afford to lose focus. We can’t fix an out-of-date model with obsolete tools and ideas. With the resources available to us, we should be leading the (global) golf industry.