Busy tourist weekend for Easter ushers in vacation season in the Myrtle Beach area

Expect a near packed house of visitors this weekend along the Grand Strand, and get used to it, because the bike rallies and summer crowds are right around the corner.

Lodging occupancy is expected to hit about 93 percent this Easter weekend, thanks in part to the holiday’s later arrival on the calendar this year, according to Taylor Damonte of Coastal Carolina University’s Center for Resort Tourism, which tracks the tourism industry.

“The later it is, the better it is because the weather is better,” he said. The beach is expecting a “very strong Easter. That will lead right into the May bike weeks.”

The beach hosts the spring Harley-Davidson rally in mid-May (early arrivals will get here for the weekend of May 9, though most of the activity is the following week and weekend), followed by Atlantic Beach Bikefest on Memorial Day weekend. Also Memorial Day weekend, Myrtle Beach hosts its Military Appreciation Days.

The momentum started in the past couple of weeks and “it’s not really going to stop until [we are into] August,” Damonte said.

The busy Easter weekend, if it turns out as planned, will so far be a highlight of an overall up and down spring for the beach. Though the cold weather that lingered longer this spring hurt some weekend occupancy, the harsh winter in many parts of the country already seems to be helping some as cabin-fevered folks have been calling local lodging properties booking that warm-weather getaway.

“People are really starting to come out of their shell,” said Matt Klugman of Vacation Myrtle Beach, a group of local hotels. “We are seeing April and May looking good. It’s pent-up demand. Everybody is tired of the weather.”

Lodging occupancy last weekend hit about 72 percent, up about 20 percent compared to the same weekend a year ago, according to CCU. For the week of April 6 occupancy averaged about 45 percent, up 15 percent compared to the same week a year ago.

Preliminary statistics from CCU show lodging occupancy for the early part of spring is up compared to the same period last year, but the statistics don’t include the past two weeks – when several properties reported being full or nearly full – or this year’s Easter holiday.

Between Feb. 23 and April 5, occupancy averaged 53.2 percent, up about 3.8 percent compared to the same period in 2013. During that six-week period this year, the average daily rate was down 3.7 percent from spring 2013. That means RevPAR – revenue per available room, a key gauge of the lodging industry – was about even with the same time last year. But last spring was disappointing because of cold and rainy weather.

Once Easter is factored in, Damonte said he “thinks it will be stronger than last spring.”

Early summer still is a bit of a question mark. The snowy winter prompted numerous missed days for schools in the Northeast and Carolinas – where many of the beach’s tourists come from – and some of those students might have to make up those days in early June, which could delay the beginning of the summer season.

But at Lakewood Camping Resort, bookings this year are up 8,000 camping nights compared to this time last year, said Shannon Gomer, chairwoman of the board.

“People are making reservations because they want some sunshine,” she said. “It has been a long winter.”

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