Strong Labor Day should help Grand Strand bounce back from Irene

The vacancy sign was still turned on Thursday at the Court Capri hotel on Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach, but manager Jason Anderson said that would soon change. "Labor Day weekend is looking good. After last week, we're really looking forward to it."

Anderson said the 100-room hotel lost about 40 reservations last weekend, as guests canceled their bookings because of Hurricane Irene, though the brunt of the storm missed the Grand Strand and caused little damage in Horry County. The hotel will be fully occupied this weekend, Anderson said.

Labor Day weekend tourism along the Grand Strand is expected to bounce back strongly from Irene. Researchers at Coastal Carolina University's Clay Brittain Jr. Center for Resort Tourism estimate occupancy in Horry and Georgetown counties will be more than 80 percent Friday night. On Saturday and Sunday nights, occupancy is projected to be closer to 90 percent.

Last weekend occupancy was only about 44 percent as Hurricane Irene approached. That was down more than 25 percent from the same weekend a year ago.

Anderson said a good Labor Day would help his hotel make up at least some of last weekend's losses. "You can't gain it all back. Unless we build another hundred rooms we could gain it back but, no, that weekend's gone."

If it hadn't been for the losses from Irene, August would have been a strong month for Grand Strand tourism, said Stephen Greene, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Hospitality Association.

Greene said he believes the Labor Day weekend will provide a strong finish to the season. "Obviously we've got a gorgeous weekend on tap for weather, which really does allow people those last minute decisions to come to the Grand Strand, so I think we'll pick up a number of people coming in just to enjoy the weather and the last hurrah for the summer season."

But there's another hurricane slowly making its way across the Atlantic. Though NewsChannel 15 First Alert Chief Meteorologist Ed Piotrowski says Hurricane Katia is still far out to sea and shows little chance of making landfall along the East Coast, Greene said national news media will be talking about the storm and that in itself could be enough to impact Labor Day weekend travel.

"We're trying to showcase that nothing is going on. We're not in any type of pattern, and we spend a lot of time talking to and assuring guests and potential vacationers that that's what's happening."

Surveys by AAA Carolinas show more people in the Carolinas are expected to travel this Labor Day weekend compared to last year.

Motor club spokesman Tom Crosby says some people may make it a point to visit the beaches to see what happened last weekend as Irene rolled up the coast.

The travel club expects 870,000 North Carolina motorists will take trips of 50 miles or more between Thursday and Monday, an increase of less than one percent over last year.

AAA expects about 424,000 South Carolina drivers to hit the road this weekend, also about one percent more than last year's forecast.