Another busy beach weekend on tap with the Easter holiday

dbryant@thesunnews.comMarch 27, 2013 

— Vacationers are expected to flock to the Grand Strand for the Easter holiday, giving the beach what likely will be its busiest spring weekend.

Lodging occupancy at hotels and condotels is expected to reach between 89 percent and 93 percent this weekend, up between 1 and 4 occupancy points compared to Easter last year, which fell a week later, according to Taylor Damonte with Coastal Carolina University’s Center for Resort Tourism.

Occupancy at vacation rental homes starting Saturday through next week is expected to hit 87 percent, up from 79 percent during Easter week last year.

“It’s the busiest weekend between now and June,” said Damonte, who tracks the Grand Strand’s tourism industry.

The crowds will be significantly bigger than last weekend, when rain kept some vacationers away and occupancy hit only 62 percent.

This weekend will be another busy March weekend at Fairfield Inn Myrtle Beach at Broadway at the Beach, where nearly all the rooms are booked for Friday night and 85 percent of the rooms are booked for Saturday night, said Ashley Sager, who works the front desk at the 111-room hotel.

“We are pretty busy,” she said. “Usually Easter is a pretty good time. We are usually almost full.”

The hotel already has been hopping this month with groups participating in sports events, including cheerleading competitions at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center and baseball tournaments at The Ripken Experience, as well as visitors attending the Pee Dee Street Rodders Run to the Sun Car Show in mid-March that had more than 3,000 registered cars. Then there’s spring break.

Travelers hitting the road for the long Easter holiday will get a break at the gas pump. Prices have declined since an earlier-than-usual increase that peaked in South Carolina on Feb. 22 with an average price of $3.62 a gallon. The average price is down 19 cents a gallon to $3.43, according to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report.

In the Myrtle Beach area, the average price is $3.41 a gallon, down 16 cents from a month ago and down 25 cents from this time last year, according to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report.

“The good news is that we’re paying 27 cents per gallon less than last Easter [in South Carolina], and gas prices continue to decline,” David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas, said in a news release. “As we head into the summer travel season, we expect prices to remain lower than what we saw last year, barring any supply issues or tensions in the Middle East.”

Prices unexpectedly started increasing late last year, rising 60 cents a gallon between Dec. 20 and the peak Feb. 22, AAA Carolinas says.

Travelers could use a break on their pocketbooks. 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.

Myrtle Beach officials have said they are optimistic that the affordability of the Grand Strand will keep vacationers coming.

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

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