Myrtle Beach tourism rebounds from soggy spring

dbryant@thesunnews.comNovember 14, 2013 

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— A busy fall and solid second half of summer helped Grand Strand tourism climb back after a disappointing, soggy spring had cast doubts on how 2013 might shake out.

“It’s been a good year,” said Taylor Damonte of Coastal Carolina University’s Center for Resort Tourism, which tracks the local tourism industry. “We more than made up for the slow, soggy spring.

“Gee, if it hadn’t rained so much in the spring, where would we be now? We’re ahead even in spite of a soggy spring season.”

Despite the washed-out spring and slow start to the summer season in June, tourism rebounded during July and August and posted a better-than-expected string of weekends through fall thanks to the nice weather.

From January through mid-October, lodging occupancy is up 2.3 percent compared to the same period in 2012 and up 1.3 percent compared with 2006, which was the peak year for occupancy for the local lodging industry, according to CCU’s tourism center. Tourism drives the local economy and has helped pull the area out of the Great Recession.

“We started coming back in 2011, again in 2012 and now in 2013, we are starting to see improvement in total revenue for the individual property,” Damonte said. “We have climbed out of the hole we experienced in 2008-09.”

Horry County’s hospitality fee revenue, which helps gauge overall spending, was up 7.2 percent from June through August, Damonte said. The hospitality fee is charged at a variety of businesses, including hotels and restaurants.

“That’s also just another indicator that we had a good, strong summer,” Damonte said.

Business owners weren’t sure it was going to work out that way, especially with the disappointing spring and slow June. 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.

Some businesses are still trying to recover from spring. Occupancy at Ocean Lakes Family Campground is down a bit from last year, but still ahead of 2011, spokeswoman Barb Krumm said in an email.

“We all had a slow start to the year due to the cold rainy spring, so we are all playing ‘catchup’ with our 2012 year-to-date occupancy stats. The strong summer and fall helped all of us,” she said. “The weather caused a slower start to spring than we would have liked, but once summer got here and the kids got out of school, business was terrific over the summer and the great weather this fall has caused this season to be outstanding as well.”

This fall at Vacation Myrtle Beach resorts, a cooperative of 14 properties including the Crown Reef Resort, Caravelle Resort and Captain’s Quarters, has outpaced last year in part because of the good weather, as well as fall events and the lineup of things to do along the Grand Strand, spokesman Matt Klugman said.

“We’ve all been fortunate there haven’t been any evacuations” because of tropical storms, he said. No storms have threatened the South Carolina coast this hurricane season, which ends Nov. 30.

A new marketing strategy touting a multi-million-dollar renovation led to a solid year for Springmaid Beach Resort on the south end of Myrtle Beach, where rates -- and revenues -- have exceed last year, marketing manager Donald Hovis Jr. said. Even March, which got a boost from the traditionally busy Easter holiday, was tremendous, he said.

“We really started off really, really strong,” Hovis said.

Headed into the slow winter season, snowbirds escaping the harsh northern winters and groups checking out holiday shows will comprise most of the area’s visitors.

The holidays are expected to keep Ocean Lakes campground buzzing.

“We will be full for Thanksgiving and the week after Christmas,” Krumm said. “New Year’s is generally pretty strong for us. We usually have quite a crowd for our New Year’s Eve Polar Bear Plunge on the 31st.”

Groups including the S.C. Tea Party Coalition, which has a meeting scheduled for January, will help kick off 2014 for Springmaid Beach Resort. “We’ve seen that more groups are starting to travel early” in the year, Hovis said.

Hovis predicts some of the economic stigma, which prompted vacationers to stay fewer days or spend less while traveling in recent years, will start to fade in 2014 because consumers are feeling more comfortable. He’s expecting summer visitors in 2014 to stay longer than the three or four nights that became popular during the economic downturn.

“People are kind of getting back settled,” Hovis said.

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

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