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      Labor Day weekend wraps up challenging Grand Strand summer

      A summer that got off to a violent start over Memorial Day is wrapping up with what is projected to be a busy Labor Day weekend.

      AAA Motor Club predicts there will be 451,000 Labor Day travelers in the Carolinas, up about one percent over last year.

      AAA says gas prices have fallen 24 cents a gallon since July.

      For Grand Strand tourism, the weekend numbers look good, according to CCU's Center for Resort Tourism.

      Occupancy for hotels and vacation rentals is expected to be about 85 percent for the holiday weekend.

      That's about the same as last year.

      "This year, no hurricanes, good weather and we should be on track to have a good strong weekend," said center director Taylor Damonte.

      Jackie Vereen, whose family has owned the Sea Dip Oceanfront Resort in Myrtle Beach for more than 40 years, expects a good weekend.

      But she says it's been a strange summer, with daily room rates up slightly, but occupancy down a little.

      Vereen says wet weather in July and August hurt business, as did a late start to the season caused by weather issues in northern states.

      "The stop and start dates for schools that had to make up for school days that they missed back in the winter" had an impact, Vereen said.

      The violence over Memorial Day weekend that led to three deaths didn't help, Vereen says.

      She believes the bad publicity hurt business.

      "Especially after the incident. We had a lot of phone calls in June about the perception of Myrtle Beach being a safe place and destination," Vereen said.

      Damonte says June occupancy was soft, but it's hard to tell why.

      "We don't know if that's tied to the negative publicity that came at that time or if it's tied to other things, including later school closings," Damonte said.

      Damonte says overall, occupancy was up about one percent this summer.

      He says the fall season should be strong, as long as the hurricanes stay away.