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      Summer tourism season starts off sluggish

      The Grand Strand's summer tourism season is halfway over, and lodging data shows it's off to a slow start.

      For the past six weeks, hotel occupancy rates have been down three percent over this time last year, according to Taylor Damonte, a professor and director at Coastal Carolina University's Clay Brittain Jr. Center for Resort Tourism.

      Damonte says there are several reasons for this decline, but snow makeup days for students because of this year's winter storms may have prevented families from taking vacations sooner.

      However, some local businesses haven't noticed the summer slump.

      "We've been packed outside at night. We have a full crowd," said Chandler Baxley, a waitress at Bummz Cafe and Bar in Myrtle Beach.

      Baxley says there have been more customers this year than last year.

      Damonte says he isn't surprised by local establishments getting more business despite this season's slump.

      When you compare occupancy rates year-to-year, the rates are actually up, according to Damonte. The most current lodging data shows occupancy rates for 2013 are up by five percent over 2012, which means more people are here than ever before. He also expects tourism to pick-up over the next six weeks.

      "We project at least three percent or more up during the second half of the summer," said Damonte.

      Typically, tourism will be stronger on the Grand Strand during the second half of summer.