If you thought the tourism crowds along the Grand Strand this fall seemed bigger than they’ve ever been, you were right.
“We’ve had an extremely strong fall. Actually, the strongest fall on record since I’ve been [tracking] it,” said Taylor Damonte, who has been tracking lodging trends since the Coastal Carolina University Center for Resort Tourism was created a decade ago. “I have been surprised by the fall. I was not aware of any particular, specific reason the overall two-month period would have been up as dramatically as it has been.”
The nice weather, an improving national economy, festivals that were well promoted and a beefed-up marketing campaign aiming to lure fall visitors are among the reasons officials say this fall landed in the record books.
From Sept. 7 through Oct. 18, an average 69.5 percent of hotels, condotels and campsites were occupied along the Grand Strand, up 8.7 occupancy points or 14.3 percent over the same six-week period last year, according to CCU. And last fall was a busy one, too, with leaders crediting the nice weather for the big shoulder season crowds then.
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The weather helped again this fall, and leaders also credit the beefed-up “60 More Days of Summer” ad campaign, which touted the beach as an ideal place to visit in the fall because of the still-warm weather, as well as the lower lodging rates and fewer crowds than during the peak summer season.
The fall-focused campaign isn’t new, but the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce started it earlier this year, ran it longer and hit 35 target markets compared to 16 markets last year, chamber President Brad Dean said.
“This year, we stepped up our investment into the fall tourism season with an investment of $3 million, substantially more than we’ve invested in the past,” he said. “The early indicators – web traffic is up 35 percent year-over-year – suggest that this was one of the best fall seasons we’ve ever experienced.”
The advertising helped, as did the weather, said Tom Moore, general manager of Hampton Inn & Suites Oceanfront in Myrtle Beach.
“It’s better than last year, and last year was better than the year before,” he said. “So we are on the upswing.”
Other visitors may just be catching on, but the McCaugheys of Canada have been regular visitors to the Grand Strand in the fall for three years, lured in part by the still warm temperatures. On Thursday afternoon, they were lounging by their hotel pool along Ocean Boulevard, enjoying the last beach sunshine before heading back home Friday morning.
“October is always a nice month,” Orvale McCaughey said. “Humidity, I don’t agree with. Also, in the summer, the crowds...”
“And the traffic,” Dorothy McCaughey said.
In addition to the weather and the marketing, events such as the Society of Stranders fall migration for shaggers and the fall Harley-Davidson motorcycle rally, as well as the Blue Crab Festival in Little River and the Greek Fest in Myrtle Beach, help lure visitors to the beach during the fall, Damonte said.
As long as the nice weather, marketing and events continue, a fall season this busy could become the norm, he said.
“It’s obvious we have a winning formula for fall,” Damonte said.
And the beach can count on October visitors like the McCaugheys.
“We will be back next year,” Orvale McCaughey said.