New numbers point to record number of Grand Strand tourists in 2013

Newly released numbers show hotel occupancy rates for the Grand Strand are in record territory so far this year.

Coastal Carolina University's Brittain Center for Resort Tourism says average overall occupancy from January through October was just under 56 percent.

That's higher than last year at this same time and about one percent above the previous peak year of 2006.

Officials say considering there are perhaps 25 percent more hotel rooms this year than than there were back in 2006, the Grand Strand may be seeing a record number of visitors in 2013.

"It is an indicator that we're seeing more sandals on the beach, more flip-flops on the pavement than we ever have," said Brittain Center director Taylor DaMonte.

DaMonte says the weather on the Grand Strand last spring was predominantly cloudy, cool and rainy, causing occupancy rates to plunge in April.

He says that makes 2013's year-to-date occupancy numbers more impressive, considering that tourism had to dig itself out of a deep hole.

"As of this last weekend, we're up almost five occupancy points, or almost 10 percent, year to date. Well, when you start from three percent in the hole and now you're 10 percent up, you've moved the needle quite a bit."

Hotel owner Steve Chapman sees the improving numbers at his Island Vista Resort, especially when he looks at the number of visitors to his web site.

Chapman says during the depths of the recession, it looked like Myrtle Beach wasn't keeping up with other destinations.

"We were concerned about losing percentage points a year and the fact that through this economy we've been able to grow it for 4,5,6 years in a row is pretty phenomenal," Chapman said.

Chapman credits more dollars spent on marketing the Grand Strand for the rebound. He says the growth in unique visitors to local tourism web sites means the occupancy numbers should continue to go up.

At the same time, DaMonte says the amount of revenue per room when adjusted for inflation is still below its 2008 peak, though he says it is slowly climbing.

"We are getting close and with occupancy improving, that's an indicator that within the next year or two, we may be able to exceed the average daily rates for lodging that we had," DaMonte said.