Thanksgiving travel expected to give Myrtle Beach tourism last busy weekend of the year

dbryant@thesunnews.comNovember 21, 2013 

File Photo by Janet Blackmon Morgan / jblackmon@thesunnews.com

JANET BLACKMON MORGAN — jblackmon@TheSunNews.com

Grand Strand tourism businesses, you might say, could be thankful for Thanksgiving.

Next week’s holiday traditionally gives campgrounds and hotels a surge in business for this off-season time of year, generating what is usually the last busy weekend for the beach until next year.

About 60 percent of vacation rental properties are reserved next week, while occupancy at hotels, campsites and condo-hotels for the weekend of Nov. 29 is expected to hit about 50 percent -- potentially higher if the weather cooperates, said Taylor Damonte of Coastal Carolina University’s Clay Brittain Jr. Center for Resort Tourism, which tracks the local tourism industry. That 50 percent occupancy level would be up from occupancy of 38 percent on Nov. 15-16, 42 percent Nov. 8-9 and 35 percent Nov. 1-2.

“It’s our last big weekend of the year,” Damonte said of the post Thanksgiving weekend. “It’s a major boost for the area.”

Celebrating Thanksgiving at the beach has become a tradition for some families, and some visitors are lured by the Black Friday shopping and the holiday shows at live theaters.

Granted, it’s a good crowd, but far from those seen during the peak summer tourism period.

“Many visitors make the Grand Strand part of their holiday travel plans and some local hotels have consistently marketed travel packages for that weekend already,” said Brad Dean, president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

Pirateland Family Camping Resort, which has a potluck dinner on Thanksgiving for its guests that has drawn as many as 400 people, expects the campground to be a bit busier next week than last Thanksgiving, spokeswoman Vickie Carmody said. Thanksgiving traditionally gives Pirateland one last boost for the year until beach tourism starts waking from its winter lull in March.

“For our park, Thanksgiving weekend is the highest occupied weekend from November to March and it’s because kids are on break from school and this time of the year the Myrtle Beach area attracts people with so many shopping options and holiday theme shows and attractions,” Carmody said. “Usually the weather is pretty mild. A lot of our residents and frequent transient campers have made Thanksgiving at the beach a tradition for their families so we see a lot of returning guests this time of the year.”

Thanksgiving weekend is a busy travel time throughout the country, though travel nationally is expected to be down about 1.5 percent from last year’s post-recession peak, according to AAA.

In South Carolina, 630,000 residents plan to travel next week for the holiday, with most of them hitting the road. About 567,000 S.C. residents plan to drive to their destinations, about 11,600 more drivers than Thanksgiving last year, according to AAA Carolinas, which released its Turkey Day travel predictions Thursday.

Wednesday and the Sunday after Thanksgiving will be the busiest travel days on the roads, with 37 percent of travelers planning to head to their destination Wednesday and 33 percent returning that following Sunday, AAA Carolinas says.

“As a traditional family holiday, Thanksgiving is the busiest travel weekend of the year,” David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas, said in a news release. “Drivers should expect heavy congestion and plan on taking more time to reach their destination.”

For those flying, Monday is expected to be the busiest travel day, with Dec. 2 expected to be a busy day returning home. Myrtle Beach International Airport is encouraging passengers to arrive at the airport two hours before their departure time and to check with their airline before heading to the airport to make sure the flight is on time.

This Thanksgiving at MYR is expected to be busier than a year ago, when the airport was still amid construction of its new terminal, which opened in April.

“It is forecasted that travel during the Thanksgiving holiday will be strong at Myrtle Beach International Airport, above 2012 levels,” airport spokesman Kirk Lovell said. “Typically, Thanksgiving is one of the busy travel weeks of the year for the airport.”

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

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