Will the Myrtle Beach area have a powerhouse summer tourism season? Spring could give clues

·3 min read
Students play games and hang out on the beach in the downtown section of Myrtle Beach, S.C. during spring break 2022. File photo (Jason Lee/jlee@thesunnews.com)

By the time Horry County enters its peak tourism months, industry leaders will already have a good idea of just how hot the season could get.

“Spring break’s really kind of one of the first big spikes you get early in the year. Kind of a good opportunity to stress test your properties, see how business is going. It’s an early indicator of what summer is going to look like,” said Patrick Norton, vice president of sales and marketing for Brittain Resorts and Hotels.

With college spring breaks running from mid-February through mid-April and then extended holidays for millions of public school students around Easter, industry leaders can pick up crucial data on occupancy rates, traffic flow and other factors in real time.

“We see a huge influx of tourists this time of year, which we are incredibly grateful for. If we’ve got a good spring with good numbers, then we are preparing to have a good summer with even better numbers,” said Christina Watts, who runs marketing and advertising for the Lazarus Entertainment Group.

An August 2019 U.S. Travel Association report prepared for the state’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism shows how lucrative the tourism sector is for South Carolina’s biggest county.

“We have it good in South Carolina, because we have a lot to offer, and have so many outside attractions and activities that people feel comfortable coming here out of COVID,” said Susan Cohen, president and CEO of the state’s restaurant and lodging association.

Norton and other industry experts look at figures from that year as the most recent set of clean data, since it doesn’t reflect spending and travel patterns altered by the pandemic.

That year, domestic travelers spent $14.4 billion inside the Palmetto State, with Horry County pulling in over $4.5 billion — nearly a third of the total amount spent here.

Between March 5 and March 11 of this year, hotel occupancy rates were up 17 percent compared to the same span in 2022, with an average daily rate of $98.68 according to data provided by the Myrtle Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Earlier this month, the chamber rolled out a spring advertising campaign focused on the region’s outdoor activities, performing arts, seafood, family entertainment, nightlife and accommodations.

Cohen, a former marketing executive for both the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce and Burroughs & Chapin, said intangibles including gas prices, inflation and weather make places like the Grand Strand strong options for tourists given the range of its attractions.

And coming in the spring means avoiding booked up hotels and traffic jams.

“It absolutely helps you balance that budget that you’ve got to spend,” Cohen said. “We’ve got very affordable options at every price point. I think the variety of product in Myrtle Beach has been key to lengthening its shoulder season.”

Tripping.com, the world’s largest search engine for vacation and short-term rentals, lists Myrtle Beach as one of the southeast’s leading spring destinations.

Not every economic sector sees spring break bumps in the same way.

College arrivals may fill up hotels and short-term rentals, but they’re not allowed at one of the 600 properties managed by Dune Realty.

That’s why the more family-oriented, mid-April window is so important said company general manager Ryan Swaim.

“One of the two weeks around Easter, almost always two-thirds of the people are from the state of New York, because the entire state tends to let out almost around the same time. It’s unofficially ‘New York week,’ and we enjoy it,” said Swaim, who is also chairman of the chamber’s governing board.