Mid-week July 4th: which weekend is busier?

Thousands of tourists will spend the biggest summer holiday of the year on the Grand Strand, but no one knows whether the heaviest tourist traffic occurred last weekend or will happen next weekend.

When the holiday falls on a Wednesday, tourism traffic will be more spread out, causing planning issues for Grand Strand hoteliers.

Among the many reasons tourists have to visit Myrtle Beach over the Fourth, Stanley and Sharon Wriston of Fayette Co., West Virginia have a unique excuse.

They came to Myrtle Beach because they lost power in their home from heavy storms last weekend.

"We're having fun being here," said Sharon Wriston. "We have air conditioning and water and plenty to eat."

For the Wagaman family from surburban Baltimore, it's all about celebrating summer.

"Enjoying the sand, the surf, the sun," said mom Kerrie Wagaman.

The Wagamans will stay on the Grand Strand for more than a week, scheduling their travel carefully.

"We like to avoid all the hubbub and the traffic on the weekend, so we try to leave before a weekend and come back after one."

Longer stays like the Wagamans' are one feature of a July Fourth that falls in the middle of the week.

Hoteliers don't know when the big rush will be - the weekend before the 4th or the weekend after - though tourism officials say the end result is the same.

"I do think that the same number of people come, they're just split up over more days, so you don't have quite the occupancy you want, but it does go on longer," said Gary Loftus, director of CCU's Center for Economic Development.

South Carolina's low gas prices are popular with travelers but Loftus isn't sure how much that impacts their decision to come here.

"Is that a decision affecting their vacation? I really don't know. It sure doesn't hurt," Loftus said.

Whatever the reason, Loftus said this has been a good year for tourism.

"We are setting records in hospitality fee collections, in accommodations tax collections, and while individual businesses may not be seeing an increase in business, the beach overall is."

About 92 percent of condos and cottages on the Grand Strand were already reserved for the July 4th week back in mid-June, which Loftus said is a strong showing. He said there are signs this could be the busiest July 4th since before the recession in 2008.

According to AAA Motor Club, average gas prices in Myrtle Beach are about 39 cents a gallon cheaper than they were last July Fourth.