Brace for busy roads and beaches this Memorial Day weekend with more travelers expected than during the same holiday weekend last year.
Folks are expected to flock to the Grand Strand for events such as the Atlantic Beach Bikefest and Myrtle Beach’s Military Appreciation Days, which include a parade Saturday and other events through the weekend. Memorial Day is also the traditional kickoff to the summer travel season with many folks taking advantage of the long holiday weekend to get away.
“I’ve seen a lot of traffic headed your way,” Cpl. Sonny Collins with S.C. Highway Patrol said Thursday while in Florence and noticing a number of trailers with bikes on the highway to Myrtle Beach. “Looks like people are headed in.”
With a sunny and warm weekend in the forecast, tourism trackers at Coastal Carolina University predict lodging occupancy this Friday and Saturday could be near or above 90 percent, then near or above 80 percent Sunday night. That’s up between 3 percent and 5 percent over Memorial Day weekend last year, according to CCU’s Clay Brittain Jr. Center for Resort Tourism.
“The coming weekend is going to be very busy, with most hotels at or near full occupancy,” said Brad Dean, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.
Myrtle Beach is among the top destinations for the 514,000 South Carolinians traveling for the long holiday weekend, as well as Charlotte, N.C.; Gatlinburg, Tenn., and Williamsburg, Va., according to AAA Carolinas, which predicts this will be the busiest Memorial Day weekend for travel in nine years.
Most of those S.C. residents -- about 451,550 -- will drive to their destinations and will find gas prices about 22 cents higher than they were this time last year, with Myrtle Beach having the most expensive gas in the state with an average $3.50 a gallon. Spartanburg has the state’s cheapest gas at $3.41.
Tom Crosby, a spokesman for AAA Carolinas, says people are traveling in part because the economy is improving.
“That and because we had an exceptionally harsh winter and people want to get out,” he said. “People want to begin the summer that is usually considered a relaxing time for all of us.”
The Hampton Inn & Suites Oceanfront in Myrtle Beach is not only expecting to be full this weekend, but bookings next week and into the summer are looking good, too, general manager Tom Moore said.
“Memorial Day sells out every year,” he said. “It’s already picking up [for summer]. It’s picked up so much it’s unbelievable. People are coming. It just really, really looks good.”
The bike rally and the summer-like crowds will keep the roads along the Grand Strand busy through the weekend, especially along U.S. 17 Bypass and U.S. 17 Business and near Atlantic Beach and North Myrtle Beach, the center of this weekend’s bike rally. Collins urges drivers to watch out for bikes, especially because most of the bikes during this rally can accelerate quickly and aren’t as loud as the Harley-Davidsons that were the focus of the rally during the past two weeks.
Statewide, the most congested times are expected to be Friday afternoon and evening as folks head to their destinations, then again Monday evening as they head home. Expect backups on U.S. 501 those days.
“It’s going to be good weather, so we do expect the crowds to be high,” Collins said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.