April 7, 2014

Tourism 2014 starts off wobbly

The start of the spring tourist season has been bumpy for many Grand Strand hotels and attractions – victims of ice storms and cold rain.

The start of the spring tourist season has been bumpy for many Grand Strand hotels and attractions – victims of ice storms and cold rain.

But representatives of tourist properties said that when March weather was good, so was attendance.

“We’ve had a couple of Saturdays that were as good as summer,” said Chris Walker, president of the Oceanfront Merchants Association.

With Spring Break and Easter weekend just a couple of weeks away, owners and managers are anticipating an uptick in business that will increase more and hold steady through the summer.

At least some hotels are looking at increased revenue this year, but not necessarily because of more overnight guests.

Donald Hovis, marketing manager at Springmaid Resort, said Springmaid likely will increase its rates for the summer, and he expects many other Strand hotels to do the same.

He said Springmaid’s March occupancy rate was 60 percent thanks in large part to a plethora of religious group bus tours from the Carolinas and Georgia.

“We prepared for March to be a lot less than last year,” Hovis said, “and April to be a lot more this year.”

Jim Eggan, corporate general manager for Myrtle Beach Seaside Resorts, said overall, the company’s nine properties averaged 50 percent occupancy in March, and said the rest of the spring season is looking very good. He said that the company’s hotels and condominium developments had good traffic even during the rainy spells.

People who chose to come despite the weather, he surmised, were escaping even worse weather in the Northeast and Midwest.

“We have the lure,” he said. “This is Myrtle Beach.”

Unlike Springmaid, Eggan said his properties are reluctant to raise average daily rates. Customers notice when they do, and Eggan said increased rates has them looking elsewhere.

“People expect discounts,” he said.

He expects to see occupancy increase through the rest of the spring season, which he defines as now til June, because of the advance bookings the properties already have.

Hovis said he counts Easter, whenever it falls, as the official kickoff to the tourist season and noted that Springmaid is fully-booked for the holiday.

Hovis said it’s difficult to reach 100 percent occupancy because there are always new properties being added to the Grand Strand mix. But he’s anticipating average daily rates and other revenue to make it a “bang-up” year for the resort.

Along the Grand Strand, said Stephen Greene, president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Hospitality Association, his members are reporting positive signs despite an up and down March. He said that the timing of make-up days from weather-related school closing in the Northeast could lead to a slow early June.

Eggan said he’s expecting the make-up days to be during spring break days, which could suppress April bookings and not affect the start of the summer season.

Recent springs were warmer than this has been so far, and Greene said the area tourist market was boosted then by people who would drive from out-of-market areas for a weekend at the coast.

“We haven’t seen that this year,” he said.

Jessica Mula, marketing director for Ripley’s Aquarium, said that Ripley’s three attractions have seen the same kind of March as everyone else is reporting, up and down. Rain would hold down attendance at the Believe It or Not! Odditorium and Haunted Adventure on Ocean Boulevard, but would boost attendance at the Aquarium.

She said the Aquarium will debut a new Swarm attraction for the summer that should boost attendance. The exhibit shows how many animals, including humans, group in swarms to increase their chances to thrive and survive.

“It’s been very sporadic,” Buzz Plyler, owner of Gay Dolphin Gift Cover on Ocean Boulevard said of March business, “up and down, depending on the weather.”

Business for the year is behind last year, he said, but he’s expecting a very good April based on what customers are spending now at the Grand Strand icon.

While business is down so far, he said he can’t tally the spring season a success or not until after the Easter holiday.

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