MYRTLE BEACH — Prepare for the busiest beaches and roads of the summer during the next few weeks as the first round of July Fourth revelers start rolling in this weekend, kicking off the peak summer tourism period.
With the holiday falling on a Thursday, hotels and properties along the Grand Strand are expecting some visitors to arrive this weekend and stay for the week, with another round rolling in mid-week next week, using the holiday to create a long weekend getaway.
“With it falling on Thursday, it gives several opportunities for people to take time off,” said Lance Cpl. Sonny Collins with the S.C. Highway Patrol.
Lodging occupancy is expected to hit about 83 percent this weekend, then swell to at least 90 percent -- if not higher -- next weekend, according to Coastal Carolina University’s Clay Brittain Jr. Center for Resort Tourism.
That means heavy traffic on roads such as U.S. 17, U.S. 501 and S.C. 544, longer lines at restaurants and packed parking lots at shopping and entertainment centers. And expect similar crowds for the next few weeks, with the peak tourism period traditionally coming the few weeks after July Fourth.
“That starts it,” said Kim Kelley, spokeswoman for Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach, which is expecting big crowds this weekend and next week. “Both weekends are going to be big.”
Broadway at the Beach, also a hotspot for fireworks viewing on the Fourth, expects a strong July Fourth period, especially because the school year in big tourism markets in the north have finally wrapped up, said Melissa Armstrong, Broadway’s marketing manager.
“Since the Fourth of July falls on Thursday, we feel there will be a two-fold affect when it comes to visitation,” she said. “Those coming for the entire week arriving the weekend prior and those who may not be able to come for an entire week, but will be able to take advantage of the long holiday weekend.”
About 471,300 South Carolina residents will take advantage of the long weekend next week and travel between Wednesday and July 7, according to predictions released Thursday by AAA Carolinas.
“You are probably going to see more congested traffic around the beach,” Collins said. “Most locals know the sidestreet shortcuts. Those will be very beneficial for the next 10 days.”
Along the Grand Strand, it’s almost a given that the Fourth brings big crowds. Many lodging properties sell out every year for the holiday, and amusement parks and entertainment hubs plan for capacity crowds. Many businesses say that as long as the crowds are about the same as last year, they consider it a success because there’s not much room to grow.
“July Fourth is generally a really busy time for the parks,” said Rebecca Feagin, spokeswoman for PARC Management in Myrtle Beach, which owns NASCAR SpeedPark, Myrtle Waves Water Park and the Pavilion Nostalgia Park at Broadway at the Beach. “It’s usually a great day for all of the beach.”
Pirateland Family Camping Resort is full for the Fourth holiday period, with between 6,000 and 8,000 vacationers expected. The oceanfront campground will have its typical July Fourth events including its golf cart parade, and has added a Pirateland’s Got Talent event, riffing off the popular TV show aiming to give guests another entertainment option, spokeswoman Vickie Carmody said.
“July Fourth is like our biggest time of the year,” she said. “We are full and people are still calling. We’ll stay consistently full for both weeks. Camping over the Fourth of July is such a big family tradition.”
Myrtle Beach spokesman Mark Kruea received several calls this week from tourists coming to the beach for the holiday asking about parking, the weather forecast and the fireworks shows.
The summer season so far is in line with last year, said Taylor Damonte of CCU’s tourism center.
“We are up one week and down the next,” he said. “I think we will be about even with last summer.”
Some tourism leaders credit good performances at their properties so far this summer with a growing reputation of Myrtle Beach that has lured first-time visitors and improving consumer confidence, which jumped to 81.4 this month -- the highest reading since January 2008.
“I’m not sure it’s one specific thing,” Carmody said.
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