Harsh winter lingers into spring tourism in the Myrtle Beach area

The calendar may say spring, but the harsh winter weather is still having lingering effects on Grand Strand tourism.

The delay in the warm-weather’s arrival this spring prompted some to skip their usually spontaneous spring trips to what was still a chilly beach this year. On the other hand, the harsh winter has caused some folks to picture themselves in warm weather beach spots -- and reservations at some lodging properties for late spring and summer are up because of it.

Myrtle Beach is among the top 10 destinations for drivers taking trips during April, May and June, based on the numbers of drivers who requested travel planning kits from AAA Carolinas.

Charlotte; Charleston; Raleigh, N.C.; Savannah; Atlanta; Las Vegas; Orlando; Gatlinburg, Tenn., and San Francisco also were among the top 10 for drivers.

That flurry of activity comes after AAA Carolinas saw a record number of bookings for hotels, tours and cruises in the first quarter as folks tried to escape the harsh winter weather, the agency said. Bookings through AAA Carolinas were up 33 percent for hotels, 15 percent for tours and 12 percent for cruises over the same period in 2013.

Top destinations were Orlando, Fla.; Mexico/Caribbean; Honolulu; Las Vegas and Miami, AAA Carolinas says.

“People wanted to put this winter behind them with a positive memory,” said Sarah Henshall, vice president of travel for AAA Carolinas. “Everyone was so excited telling our agents how happy they were ‘getting away’ even for just a few days and we already have seen bookings skyrocket for the second quarter of this year.”

The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce tried to entice cabin-fevered folks in the Northeast and other snowed-in spots during the winter with extra ads every time a storm hit.

“In the cold-weather markets, we increased awareness through advertising so people who might have been home because of children whose schools had been canceled, or because their work had been canceled, will think Myrtle Beach for an upcoming vacation,” chamber spokesman Brad Dickerson said in an email.

But the lingering cold into spring has caused a decline in last-minute trips, Dickerson said.

“The harsh weather has had an impact on spring travel and tourism,” he said. “It hasn’t impacted spring trips that were planned in advance as much. Where we’ve seen a greater impact has been in last-minute trips to [the] area. In a lot of cases, the weather has prevented visitors from traveling out of their market for a last-minute getaway or weekend trip.”

A snapshot of lodging performance during the past six weeks shows mixed results, with occupancy up but rates down compared to the same time last year.

From March 16 through April 26, lodging occupancy was about 57 percent, up about 2 occupancy points from the same period last year, but the average daily rate was down about 5 percent, according to Coastal Carolina University’s Clay Brittain Jr. Center for Resort Tourism. That leads to the revenue per available room -- or RevPAR, a key gauge of the industry -- down 1.6 percent for those six weeks compared to the same period last year.