No one should be surprised or alarmed at the 1.5 point increase in Horry County’s December unemployment rate, said Rob Salvino, associate professor and research economist at Coastal Carolina University’s Wall School of Business.
With tourism as the area’s major industry, unemployment numbers are normally highest in December through February, which Salvino said are known by statisticians as the Grand Strand’s winter quarter.
The S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce reported Friday that the December unemployment rate in Horry County was 11.1 percent as opposed to 9.6 percent in November. While higher than November, the December rate was a 0.9 point decrease from the December 2011 rate.
In Georgetown County, December’s rate of 9.5 percent unemployed was 1 point above the November rate, the numbers showed. In December 2011, the rate in Georgetown was 10.4 percent.
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Statewide, the unemployment rate climbed just 0.1 point to 8.4 percent from November to December and was 1.2 points lower than December 2011.
Salvino pointed out that decreases in employment in the hospitality industry both locally and statewide drove both sets of numbers. He also noted that the overall labor force went down, which influenced the December rate.
Because of the combination of a lower labor force and higher unemployment, it meant that total employment is about level.
But the good news is the growing demand for tourism, said Salvino.
Taylor Damonte, director of the Clay Brittain Jr. Center for Resort Tourism at CCU, said that occupancy of Horry County’s roughly 100,000 transient bedrooms was up 1.5 percent to 1.8 percent in 2012.
Officials in Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach indicated the picture may be even better there.
Mark Kruea, spokesman for the city of Myrtle Beach, said he believes the city’s accommodations and hospitality fee collections were up 3 percent to 7 percent through November. The numbers weren’t yet available for December, he said.
About half the county’s rental bedrooms are in Myrtle Beach, according to Damonte.
Pat Dowling, North Myrtle Beach spokesman, said the city’s hospitality-related fee collections continued an upward trend from 2011.
“We had a very good year for tourism,” he said. “It harkens back to 2006 to 2007, where we really had good numbers as well.”
Dowling said that except for downward blips in October and December, the city’s accommodation and hospitality collections were up considerably in 2012.
Marc Jordan, who said that North Myrtle Beach has about 15,000 transient bedrooms, said he’s heard no indications from the city’s hospitality leaders that business is down. He said that if it were, he would expect them to be telling him the chamber needs to aim its promotions in the direction of attracting more visitors.
Stephen Greene, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Hospitality Association, agreed that 2012 trends were up and, so far, the line is headed the same way for 2013.
But he warned that hospitality spending locally could be impacted by what Congress eventually does to move the country away from the fiscal cliff. He said that if consumers see fewer dollars as a result, it could impact hospitality spending along the Grand Strand. It may not translate into fewer visits, he said, but into people spending less while they are here.
Greene said that area hotels were able to incorporate an increase in daily room rates in 2012, another good sign in the last year. And for the first time since 2007-2008, he said there is a national trend of upgrades in the lodging industry, which is being reflected locally.