Tourism

Eclipse ‘frenzy’ brings visitors to Grand Strand

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The solar eclipse on Aug. 21 is expected to bring millions of people to South Carolina—and that flood of visitors will stretch up the Grand Strand, though part of the area will not witness a complete eclipse.

“We are out of the zone of totality but you wouldn’t know it. It is a true frenzy,” said Matt Klugman, of VacationMyrtleBeach.com.

Klugman, who oversees 14 properties with a total 3,400 units, said he expects full occupancy on Sunday and Monday nights.

The highest concentration of eclipse watchers are expected on the south end of the strand. Georgetown, with much fewer rooms, is benefiting from being on the edge of the zone where viewers will be able to see the complete eclipse. An informal survey by the county’s chamber of commerce last week showed that almost all traditional hotel lodging was booked, and other options were filling fast.

“I guess for a once in a lifetime event we just really don’t know what to expect,” said Jennifer Norman, the tourism development director for the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce.

Joseph Baxter, of Baxter’s Brewhouse Inn, had rented all three of his rooms until one guest pulled out due to an emergency. Now, he said he’s hoping to command a higher price, which four people quickly inquired about when it was re-listed on Airbnb.

“Everybody else in Georgetown sold out,” Baxter said.

Guests will be able to sip Baxter’s home-brewed concoctions, like a red IPA named “Vicious Rust” in honor of Georgetown’s steel mill. This weekend will be the first open for the inn, which doubles as Baxter’s mother’s home on Prince Street.

Baxter said he plans to charge $399 a night for the room that opened up for the eclipse, a 60-percent increase from the typical rate.

“If I’m the last guy standing, I’m hopefully gonna get the best rate, and I’ve put up a three night minimum, so that’s kind of what I’m working at,” Baxter said.

Mansfield Plantation, a 1,000-acre estate at 1776 Mansfield Road with nine guest rooms, has been booked solid for eclipse weekend--and guests made their reservations two years ago.

Manager Kathryn Green said those visitors got the typical room rates, which range from $160 to $210 a night.

“We had some amateur astronomers who had called and booked several rooms right off,” she said.

Julie Osteen has rented out the cottage on her property, at the corner of Prince and Cannon Streets, for two years. The unit was spoken for months ago, but she receives calls daily from people inquiring about the space.

Osteen also decided not to raise her rates for the event.

“It’s kind of an exciting time,” Osteen said. “All these people are coming here for something that’s one minute and 46 seconds.”

‘The closer you are’

In Myrtle Beach, which is already a high-volume resort destination in the summer, the eclipse serves as a shot in the arm to hoteliers just as school schedules start to pull visiting families away from the beach.

Stephen Greene, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Hospitality Association, said many businesses are trying to capitalize on the event by throwing eclipse parties.

“The closer you are to the totality,” the better bookings have been for hoteliers, Greene said.

But it’s unclear what the affect will be to the entire Myrtle Beach area.

“We expect a modest bump in traffic from the eclipse due to proximity, but because it’s still a busy travel time for many summer visitors, the impact locally will be limited,” said Brad Dean, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

The 149-room Island Vista resort at 6000 N. Ocean Blvd. was booked at 90 percent capacity for eclipse weekend, General Manager Steve Chapman said Tuesday. He said he expected occupancy to rise above 95 percent as the weekend neared, but that the eclipse hasn’t has a significant effect.

“I just don’t think we’re getting a lot from it, I think we’re getting the crowd that would normally come in,” Chapman said.

But Klugman, of VacationMyrtleBeach.com, said he’s still seen enough demand that rates have jumped modestly, and there’s “no question” that combining eclipse viewing with a beach vacation has been a pull for many.

“I wish we could have an eclipse every year, but then it probably wouldn’t be quite as popular,” he said.

Chloe Johnson: 843-626-0381, @_ChloeAJ

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