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Grand Strand tourism bounced back after a slow start to the season in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, with some businesses saying the summer was about even with or up a bit from last year.
Overall average lodging occupancy — including hotels, campsites, condotels and vacation rental properties — hit 83 percent for the summer, up about 1 percent compared to the 2013 season, said Taylor Damonte of Coastal Carolina University’s Center for Resort Tourism.
“It’s not a bad summer,” Damonte said. “It’s not up as much as we’d like but it’s still a good showing.”
Damonte said tourism could not continue to see the growth of the past couple of summers.
“We’ve had a couple of relatively good years,” Damonte said. “We are not comparing it to a down year.
“As long as we are not going in the other direction, it’s probably as good as we can hope for.”
With the last round of summer tourists in town for the season-ending Labor Day weekend, some businesses are saying the season was good, with revenues on par with last summer or up slightly.
The full picture of the season’s performance won’t be available for a couple of months, when other gauges of the industry — including hospitality fee and accommodations tax revenues — have been calculated.
But by Labor Day, there’s usually a consensus on how the summer went. This year, it varies greatly by the type of business.
Marc Jordan, president of the North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce, said he’s still trying to determine how the season fared, with the feedback he’s getting from businesses going from one extreme to the other.
Fast-foot eateries tell Jordan they’ve had one of their best summers, while sit-down restaurants say the opposite. Jordan credits the surge at fast-food eateries with teams playing at the North Myrtle Beach Park & Sports Complex, which opened earlier this year, grabbing quick meals.
Then there’s the lodging properties.
“I thought it was going well,” Jordan said. “In the last week, I’ve been in discussions with a number of large hotel companies saying their numbers are down.”
Hotels, condotels and campsites — which make up 75 percent of the local market — didn’t fare as well this summer as last year, according to CCU’s tourism research center. Average occupancy for that segment was down about 1.5 occupancy points or 1.8 percent, hitting 81.5 percent this summer.
Vacation rental properties, mainly rental houses but including all lodging that rents by the week, fared much better this summer than the traditional hotels, condotels and campsites, according to the center.
Average occupancy for vacation rental properties this summer was 87 percent, up 8 occupancy points or 10 percent over last summer.
Properties that did well say a growing recognition of Myrtle Beach — especially the ranking of the top summer destination by TripAdvisor — as well as marketing contributed to their good summer.
“We did have a strong summer,” said Matt Klugman, spokesman for Vacation Myrtle Beach resorts, adding that the season was better than last year. “June ended up being good for us, July was very strong and August has been good for us as well, so all in all we are pleased. We have maintained a good occupancy all summer and have seen some growth in our rates.”
The season got off to a slow start in June, according to hotel lodging occupancy statistics and area businesses. Weekly occupancy for hotels, condotels and campsites was down between 1.8 percent and 6 percent during the first two weeks of June, then was basically even with last year during the last two weeks of June, according to CCU statistics.
“Business started off slow in June due to schools getting out late because of the bad winter weather,” said Mark Lazarus, who owns Wild Water and Wheels in Surfside Beach, Broadway Grand Prix in Myrtle Beach and OD Pavilion Amusement Park in North Myrtle Beach. “By mid-June it picked up and was good through July. … All in all the summer will be on par with the last year and maybe up a tad.”
Businesses blame the slow start on the school make-up days for the harsh winter weather that kept kids in classes longer this year than usual. Some also question whether reports across the country about the violence on Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach during Memorial Day weekend might also have hurt.
“We don’t know what amount of the weakness was caused by what factor,” Damonte said. “The first half of summer, the performance of the industry was relatively poor compared to the second half of the summer.”
But despite the struggles with lodging occupancy in June, tax and fee collections were up slightly compared to June 2013. In Myrtle Beach, the accommodations tax collections were up 2.8 percent, which could indicate that even though lodging occupancy was down, guests paid more for a place to stay than the previous year.
The city’s hospitality fee revenue, which is collected on accommodations, prepared food and admissions, was up 1 percent, according to city spokesman Mark Kruea. Collections in unincorporated Horry County also were up in June compared to June 2013.
Brad Dean, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, declared the summer season a success, despite the school make-up days, Memorial Day publicity and a brush with a tropical storm around the big July Fourth holiday.
“Overall, we’ve enjoyed a busy summer season,” he said.
Contact DAWN BRYANT at 626-0296 or follow on Twitter @TSN_dawnbryant. ___