Gas prices up for Easter weekend, but so is hotel occupancy

Just in time for the start of the Easter holiday weekend, gas prices have gone up again.

According to the average price for regular gasoline in the Myrtle Beach area is $3.73 per gallon. That's right in line with the state average. It's up three cents a gallon from last week and 15 cents from last month.

South Carolina still has some of the lowest gas prices in the nation and that's good news for the state's tourism industry.

On the Grand Strand, this looks to be a busy Easter holiday weekend. Visitors told NewsChannel 15 they weren't going to let the higher gas prices keep them away.

"It bothered me, but it didn't discourage me from coming down," said Bud Haney of Bangor, Maine.

Taylor DaMonte from Coastal Carolina University's Center for Resort Tourism said he's found that when gas prices go up, hotel occupancy in Myrtle Beach goes up as well.

He said he can't be sure which one of those things causes the other, but it's probably because Myrtle Beach is a regional drive-to destination. When fuel prices go up, airfares go up, too, he said.

"So we're a relatively less expensive option than the long-haul destinations that a larger percentage of their travelers come by air," DaMonte said.

DaMonte is expecting Grand Strand hotel occupancy to be around 90 percent this Easter weekend, about the same as last year.

But unlike past years, he said tourists started showing up well before the weekend started. "That is one thing that doesn't happen every year. This year, the market seemed to come early."

When it comes to Easter tourism, DaMonte said where the holiday falls on the calendar makes a bigger difference than other factors.

The manager of Ripley's Aquarium agrees that the later Easter falls, the better.

"Generally, I've always thought this period to a little later in the month of April will generally work better for the town," said Peter McIntyre.

McIntyre said Ripley's is expecting a strong Easter weekend, too. He said it would be comparable to last year when tourism started strong, but that didn't translate into an exceptional summer.

McIntyre said it's hard to tell whether the same pattern will take place this year.

DaMonte said the best year for Easter tourism in Myrtle Beach was 2007, before the recession hit.