Two rounds of crowds expected in Myrtle Beach area for July Fourth

dbryant@thesunnews.comJune 28, 2012 

— The first of a steady stream of visitors coming to the beach to celebrate July Fourth will start arriving Friday, keeping the Grand Strand bustling for the next 10 days.

With the holiday falling on a Wednesday, the beach is likely to get two rounds of revelers: those arriving this weekend celebrating leading up to the holiday, then those kicking off their getaway on the Fourth and staying through that following weekend. The weekend after the Fourth likely will be the busiest of the two.

“We won’t see any let-up for two weeks,” said Chris Lacey, general manager of Westgate Resorts in Myrtle Beach, which is full both weekends.

Expect a near full house along the Grand Strand, with increased traffic, longer lines at restaurants and crowded beaches. Myrtle Beach is among the most popular drive destinations for Carolinians traveling for the holiday, along with Charleston; Asheville, N.C.; Atlanta and Orlando, according to AAA Carolinas. Low gas prices might even prompt some last-minute travelers to scoot to the beach, experts said.

Lodging occupancy this weekend along the Grand Strand is expected to hit 90 percent, while occupancy next week is expected to hit 96 percent, about even with last year, according to Coastal Carolina University’s Clay Brittain Jr. Center for Resort Tourism.

About 506,700 South Carolinians are expected to travel for July Fourth, split over the two weekends, according to AAA Carolinas. That’s about 5 percent more than last year and the most since 2007, AAA Carolinas said. The last time July Fourth was on a Wednesday, there was a record number of travelers for the holiday, AAA said.

“We predict slightly more travelers will combine Thursday and Friday [next week] as part of their holiday weekend in order to enjoy Independence Day celebration activities, such as Wednesday night fireworks, encouraging travelers to stay at their destination overnight,” David Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas, said in a news release.

Drivers this July Fourth will get a gift at the gas pumps. The average price in South Carolina -- which has the cheapest gas in the nation -- is about $2.98 a gallon, 36 cents a gallon cheaper than Memorial Day and 61 cents a gallon cheaper than July Fourth last year. Myrtle Beach’s average is $2.93 a gallon, about 37 cents cheaper than this time last year, according to Fuel Gauge Report.

Charleston has the highest average price in South Carolina, at $3.04 a gallon, while Greenville has the state’s cheapest gas at $2.92 a gallon.

Prices are expected to continue to decline in the coming weeks, according to AAA Carolinas.

The lower prices don’t drive a lot of traffic to the Grand Strand, but could spark some in close markets in the Carolinas to hit the road for the holiday, said Stephen Greene, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Hospitality Association.

Vacationers who had already planned to come to the beach might use the money they save on gas for another outing to an attraction or restaurant while here, he said.

Contact DAWN BRYANT at 626-0296 or at dbryant@thesunnews.com or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_dawnbryant.

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