Resorts across the Grand Strand reported a strong holiday weekend, as warm weather encouraged last-minute visitors to flock to the beach.
Improved occupancy and higher rates were a plus for rental businesses, and could indicate the start to a strong tourism season in 2017, resorts said. Property managers said temperatures in the 70s were especially appealing to travelers from the north, as a string of recent snowstorms affected the northeast United States and Canada.
“I think, obviously, this weather is having a big impact on us,” Stephen Greene, head of the Myrtle Beach Area Hospitality Association, said. “Brookgreen Gardens had to have more people staffing the booths to be able to get the number of people through. The [Myrtle Beach] State Park was real, real high.”
Hoteliers also reported higher occupancy, Greene said.
Occupancy for Friday through Sunday nights of the holiday weekend this year compared to the holiday weekend last year rose 5.5 percent, said Taylor Damonte, of Coastal Carolina University’s Brittain Center for Resort Tourism. Revenue per available room, or revPAR, also rose 8 percent, he said.
Despite the fact that Valentine’s Day fell on the weekend last year, “If you got up on the Monday before President’s Day Weekend [in 2016] and looked at the weather forecast...you would have seen a 40 percent chance of rain on Saturday, with a 45-degree high,” Damonte said.
Across a broad swath of lodging, occupancy rates for the weekend reached 63 percent in 2017.
Some smaller properties, however, fared better than the average. Steve Chapman, general manager of the 149-room Island Vista resort, said the property was at 93 percent occupancy last Friday night, sold out on Saturday and at 94 percent occupancy on Sunday, an improvement over last year.
The resort at 6000 N. Ocean Blvd. has had strong bookings since the beginning of the year, Chapman said.
“With the weather, it’s like spring, so our whole February looks pretty good,” he said.
Tom Moore, general manager of the Hampton Inn & Suites Oceanfront at 1801 S. Ocean Blvd., said the holiday weekend was sold out every night at his 227-room resort.
But, he said, the property did miss some opportunity for additional revenue.
“We had a group in and we could have not rented to that group and probably made more money,” he said.
In booking trends, Moore said that many travelers are either booking far in advance--like the college group he hosted last weekend--or planning at the last second, a continuation of trends that resorts reported last summer.
He was also surprised at the influx of Canadian travelers.
“I can’t believe all the Canadians are coming,” Moore said. “I thought their dollar was way, way off. They want to come to where it’s warm.”
The Canadian dollar was trading at 76 cents to the U.S. dollar on President’s Day this year, a rate that makes travel from Canada to the United States financially unfavorable. It’s a four cent improvement for Canadians over President’s Day the year before, however.
Spending from visitors was also positive, Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce President Brad Dean said.
“There were certainly a lot of people in town and they appear to be spending at a higher rate than what we’ve seen from the last couple of springs,” he said.
Strong spending and visitation is a positive signal, Dean said, as President’s Day weekend was once the weekend when the Myrtle Beach Marathon was held. It was expected to take three to five years for the three-day weekend to rebound to its marathon levels, but Dean said that it seems that process is going faster than expected.
Damonte, of CCU, said that this year’s preliminary numbers show a 2 percent dip in occupancy from 2015, the last year the marathon was held on the holiday weekend. But revPAR, which includes both room prices and occupancy, rose modestly by 0.75 percent.
The advance forecast for the weekend in 2015 also featured chilly temperatures, and the marathon, an event that largely ends on Saturdays, did not entice visitors to stay the full three nights, Damonte said.
“I think [President’s Day is] our first good opportunity for a three-day holiday, and I think that was the biggest argument against having the marathon event on that weekend,” Damonte said.
Looking forward, resort managers had a sunny outlook for the spring.
Chapman said he expected that March could be a little off, but that April will be improved from last year, when spring break schedules were earlier, due to an earlier Easter.
“You probably need to take March and April make it a 60-day month,” Chapman said.
Moore said his bookings, in part due to more tour groups, looked strong through the rest of February and March.
“The group business is real good in the shoulder season in Myrtle Beach,” More said. “We’re blessed to have what we have, and we go out, and we work for it.”