The Grand Strand’s winter hibernation is over.
The largest surge of tourists so far in 2013 is expected this weekend as more than 7,000 runners flock to the Grand Strand for the Bi-Lo Myrtle Beach Marathon, and others come to enjoy a three-day weekend capped by the Presidents Day holiday on Monday.
For a destination that thrives on warm-weather vacationers, this February weekend is a welcome jolt – and one that will be followed closely with more busy weekends for spring break, a car show and other events that will help the beach ramp up until those summer crowds start arriving.
“I have always called this the first weekend of the pre-spring weekends,” said Taylor Damonte of Coastal Carolina University’s Center for Resort Tourism, which tracks the local tourism industry.
Lodging occupancy is expected to hit near 78 percent this weekend, well above the 30 to 40 percent levels of the past few winter weekends, according to the tourism center.
“We will be twice as busy this weekend,” Damonte said.
Area businesses are ready for the wake-up call, many of them offering discounts to runners or planning special events to lure them and other visitors. Some commercial hubs, such as the downtown core represented by the Oceanfront Merchants Association and The Market Common urge spectators to come to their areas to watch the runners, betting they’ll stick around to eat, shop or take in an attraction.
“This is always a fantastic week for The Market Common,” spokeswoman Hatton Gravely said. “This is one of the bigger weekends of the winter. The marathon makes a huge impact for everybody in Myrtle Beach.”
Broadway at the Beach, which already gets a surge as host of some marathon events, also plans its KidzTime Festival for marathon weekend.
“The two combined with an extended holiday weekend provide a nice boost in traffic to the property,” O’Neil McCoy, Broadway’s general manager, said in an email.
Like at The Market Common, some Broadway shops will offer discounts for runners. Many of the marathon participants go to Broadway to shop, eat or check out the attractions, McCoy said.
“All the merchants at Broadway reap the benefits of the marathon,” he said.
The marathon provides a nice transition from the winter lull to bigger spring crowds, McCoy said.
Several big weekends already are on tap for March, including the trickle in of spring breakers, St. Patrick’s Day revelers, sports tourism events for cheerleaders and soccer players and the popular Pee Dee Street Rodders Run to the Sun car show March 14-16, Myrtle Beach spokesman Mark Kruea said. Easter, which traditionally also provides a tourism boost, falls at the end of March this year.
“Things start happening in February with the marathon,” Kruea said.
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