Dreary weather hurt spring tourism in Myrtle Beach, summer season uncertain

dbryant@thesunnews.comMay 11, 2013 

— April showers didn’t bring anything rosy for Grand Strand tourism.

All the unseasonably cold temperatures and dreary days contributed to a soggy spring for the Grand Strand’s economic driver, with lodging occupancy and average daily rates down from the same period a year ago. The weather washed away what tourism trackers predicted would have been a slight increase, about 1 percent, in occupancy this spring.

Weather plays more of a role during the spring and fall because there’s more spur-of-the-moment travel, not the planned-in-advance, long summer vacations, said Taylor Damonte of Coastal Carolina University’s Clay Brittain Jr. Center for Resort Tourism, which tracks the local tourism industry and has studied how weather forecasts affect it.

“The temperature was down and precipitation was higher. During the spring and the fall of the year, there is a statistical relationship between the weather forecast and the occupancy. [Potential] visitors get up on Monday morning, look at the forecast and if it’s a 100 percent chance of rain, they don’t come,” he said.

“I’m not saying that is the only factor, but it is statistically significant. The weather has hurt.”

Tourism trackers aren’t yet sure whether other economic and consumer issues -- including an end to a payroll tax cut at the beginning of the year that left workers taking home less money -- also have contributed to the off numbers.

Average lodging occupancy and rates for the six weeks from March 24 through May 4 were down significantly compared to the same six-week period last year. Hotel and condotel occupancy was down about 5.1 occupancy points or 8.5 percent, while average daily rates were off 3.6 percent, according to CCU. Vacation rental properties were down 3.5 occupancy points or 5.8 percent, and their rental rates were down 10 percent.

The coming weeks don’t look much better, throwing uncertainty into the summer tourism outlook and hinting that there might be more issues negatively influencing travel than just the weather. Reservations for vacation rental properties don’t show improvement -- comparing a week this year to the same week last year -- until mid-June, Damonte said.

“So I just don’t know what the rest of the summer will bring at this point,” he said. “We believe weather played a role this spring but there may be other macroeconomic factors and other consumer factors. So we will just have to wait and see.”

Some properties still were able to stay about even in April compared to April 2012, but admit their numbers would have been better if the weather had cooperated. Icky weather tends to keep the last-minute bookers and weekend visitors away.

“Weather has definitely had a hindrance on business for sure,” said Don Hovis with Springmaid Beach Resort in Myrtle Beach.

But not all the weekends were a bust. For example, the beach was busy during the St. Patrick’s Day weekend in March, which featured not only the usual holiday celebrations but also lured cheerleaders for a competition and more than 3,000 car enthusiasts for the Pee Dee Street Rodders 25th Anniversary Run to the Sun show.

The weather that weekend was sunny and warm, with unseasonably warm highs of 80 on March 16 and 77 on March 17, according to the National Weather Service. Occupancy for that mid-March weekend hit 75 percent.

Lodging occupancy during the usually busy Easter weekend hit the same level, but that was a bit shy of estimates. Easter fell earlier in the calendar this year than last year, and the later Easter is the busier the holiday period typically is.

Downtown Myrtle Beach business owners also had noticed a difference in some of the spring crowds, especially around Easter.

“It’s been a crazy spring. Everybody is a little disappointed with the weather,” Chris Walker, a downtown business owner and president of the Oceanfront Merchants Association, told The Sun News last month. “When the weather is decent, it is really good.”

The Myrtle Beach area got 5.70 inches of rain during April, nearly 3 inches above normal, according to the National Weather Service. That April tally is more than four inches more than the mere 1.46 inch of rain on the area in April 2012. The average temperature last month was 61.8 degrees, compared to 63.5 in April 2012.

And until mid-week this week, May weather wasn’t coming in much better. For example, on May 4, the high in the Myrtle Beach area was 68 degrees; the normal high for that date is 76. Last year it hit 85 degrees on May 4, according to the National Weather Service.

“It’s been a cold, chilly -- I actually thought it was fall last week,” said Barb Krumm, spokeswoman for Ocean Lakes Family Campground.

But businesses are still hopeful for a solid summer.

Ocean Lakes probably would have had more walk-in reservations during the spring if the weather had been better, but bookings for the summer are coming in strong, Krumm said.

“All of the signs are good for business this summer,” she said.

Hovis said that Springmaid is expecting a tremendous summer, in part because of an improving economy and a $9 million renovation at the resort that has lured new customers.

And the weather that’s been so hard to deal with the past few months might actually help kick-start the summer season by prompting those sick of the icky weather to get away, potentially to Myrtle Beach, he said.

“This winter was harsher than last year,” Hovis said, adding that it was much colder and seemed to last longer than last year. “People are just ready for summer.”

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

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