MYRTLE BEACH — You probably noticed that the roads and restaurants seemed a bit busier last weekend, and statistics released Thursday show just how busy it was.
Nice weather, a car show with more than 3,000 participants, a cheerleading competition and St. Patrick’s Day festivals helped fuel the Grand Strand’s busiest weekend so far in 2013, with lodging occupancy the weekend of March 15 hitting 75 percent, according to Coastal Carolina University’s Center for Resort Tourism.
That’s up from 63.9 percent the weekend of March 8 and 49 percent the weekend of March 1. During every other weekend of 2013, lodging occupancy ranged from 20 percent to 47 percent.
Last week leading up to the weekend also was busy, with lodging occupancy at 57.8 percent, up nearly 7 occupancy points or 13 percent compared to the same week a year ago.
Some of the traffic came from the Pee Dee Street Rodders 25th Anniversary Run to the Sun car show March 14-16, which attracted more than 3,000 hot rods to the former Myrtle Square Mall site. Across Oak Street, hundreds of cheerleaders competed at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center during the Cheer Ltd. Nationals.
The area also had festivals for St. Patrick’s Day and the sun and warm temperatures lured some visitors as well.
“That’s pretty good for the end of winter,” Myrtle Beach spokesman Mark Kruea said. “The traffic was busy, and it was a diverse crowd.”
Fuddruckers restaurant at the corner of Kings Highway and 21st Avenue North, within walking distance of the car show site and the convention center, brought in extra workers last weekend expecting a rush, manager Rosa Green said, adding that sales were up.
“We did really, really well,” she said.
But don’t expect the same kind of crowds this weekend. Just like nice weather can lure visitors, the rainy weather this weekend is expected to keep some of them away.
There’s a 40 percent chance of rain Saturday, and a 70 percent chance of rain Sunday. Occupancy is only expected to hit 68 percent this weekend, instead of 75 percent if the weather forecast had been better, said Taylor Damonte of the CCU tourism center.
Lodging occupancy is expected to rebound Easter weekend starting March 29, with that holiday traditionally pushing occupancy between 80 percent and 90 percent, Damonte said, adding that he’ll have a more detailed prediction for Easter weekend early next week.
Though last weekend was busy, it still wasn’t as busy as the same weekend a year ago. Lodging occupancy was down about 4.1 occupancy points and the average daily rate was off 1.5 percent from a year ago.
The average lodging occupancy for the past six weeks is 41.8 percent, about even with last year. Visitors also weren’t paying as much for their rooms as they did during the same period last year, with the average daily rate down 3.5 percent, according to CCU.
Lodging occupancy this spring is expected to be up only slightly, maybe 1 percent, Damonte said.
Economists have been concerned how the end of a 2 percent payroll tax cut that kicked in at the start of 2013 -- which left workers taking home less money every paycheck -- could affect travel plans this year. Fewer take-home dollars means workers have less money for discretionary spending, including vacations and golf trips.
Kruea said he was optimistic that visitors still will come to the Grand Strand because it’s an affordable place.
“I hope that doesn’t hurt Myrtle Beach,” he said. “We are very much an affordable destination.”
Nationally, tourism spending ticked up before the end of the tax cut in the fourth quarter last year, but year-over-year growth has slowed, according to statistics released this week by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis.
In the fourth quarter, spending on travel increased at an annual rate of 1.8 percent after decreasing 0.7 percent in the third quarter.
For all of 2012, travel spending nationally increased 2.7 percent; it increased 3.2 percent in 2011.
Contact DAWN BRYANT at 626-0296 or at email@example.com or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_dawnbryant.