Statistics released late this week prove what locals already figured: More visitors were along the Grand Strand this Memorial Day weekend -- which turned deadly in Myrtle Beach -- than the same holiday weekend in 2013.
Overall lodging occupancy was about 82 percent for Friday and Saturday nights during Memorial Day weekend, up 4.6 occupancy points or 5.9 percent from Memorial Day last year, according to Taylor Damonte at Coastal Carolina University’s Clay Brittain Jr. Center for Resort Tourism. That’s the occupancy for all rentals -- including hotels, condotels, campsites and vacation rental properties, with the vacation rental properties making up about 20 percent of the market.
The numbers confirm that the beach was busier this Memorial Day weekend compared to last, but they don’t show how many people were here or in what areas they stayed. Thousands flocked to the Grand Strand for the holiday weekend for events such as the Atlantic Beach Bikefest and Military Appreciation Days.
Some Myrtle Beach leaders have said that police officers were caught off guard by the number of visitors in the city limits during the weekend, where three people were killed, seven were injured and eight shootings were reported along Ocean Boulevard -- the heart of the city’s tourism industry. Residents expressed anger and frustration with city leaders over the lawlessness and violence they say they witnessed during the weekend, and have demanded that city leaders take action to keep it from happening again.
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Though the statistics don’t pinpoint in what areas visitors stayed along the Grand Strand, the Myrtle Beach city limits were much busier than Memorial Day 2013, city spokesman Mark Kruea said, adding that’s based on the feedback he received from hoteliers.
“It was hard to find a room,” he said. “The city likely was busier than the average for the Grand Strand.”
Though the 81 percent lodging occupancy during Memorial Day weekend is considered a busy weekend, the weekends in July are usually busier with occupancy into 90 percent. But it was the behavior of the Memorial Day crowd that made it more challenging than a busier July weekend, Kruea said.
Kruea said that in the summer, visitors are spread out in several places -- from the beach to the Boulevard to the area’s many attractions. But during Memorial Day weekend, the crowd was focused on the Boulevard with a street party atmosphere.
“In July, when we have 95 percent occupancy, it’s a fully diversified crowd and they are taking advantage of all there is to see and do here,” Kruea said. “On July Fourth, the beach will be busier than the Boulevard. Last weekend, the Boulevard was busier than the beach...
“The crime and violence and other issues [during Memorial Day weekend] were greater than we’ve seen in a long time. It would appear that people were here looking to be unruly.”
Brad Dean, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce who pushed last week for action to rein in the Memorial Day bike rally, said last weekend was worse than busier summer weekends because of the behavior of the visitors in town. He said the community has a right to expect visitors to obey the laws.
“It’s a matter of behavior and responsibility,” Dean said.
Headed into the holiday weekend, tourism trackers expected the beach to be even busier for the three-day weekend. Initially, lodging occupancy for hotels, condotels and campsites was expected to be at or near 90 percent, in part because of an expected last-minute surge of check-ins thanks to a nice weather forecast.
“I would have thought we would have picked up more,” Damonte said.
Break down the numbers, and vacation rental properties had a surge in business compared to Memorial Day last year, according to CCU.
Vacation rental properties -- many of which are clustered on the south and north ends of the Grand Strand -- had occupancy at 82 percent from May 24 through May 30. That’s up 21 occupancy points or 34 percent compared to Memorial Day 2013.
Most of the lodging units along the Grand Strand are hotels, condotels and campsites, and occupancy in those units was about 81.6 percent on the Friday and Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, about even with last year.