MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Gov. Henry McMaster is fond of saying “the business of South Carolina is business.”
Much of South Carolina’s business is tourism, generating roughly $24 billion for the state annually, according to S.C.‘s director of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, Duane Parrish.
However, South Carolina’s tourism industry has taken a hit this year due to COVID-19. In mid-April hotel occupancy statewide dropped to around 15%, according to Parrish.
Following the lifting of many restrictions starting around mid-May, the state’s tourism industry had started to make a comeback. Recently, that comeback has taken a step back.
At a press briefing held by McMaster at the state house Friday, Parrish said “recent national publicity around cases has hurt our industry’s comeback.”
Parrish is referring to outbreaks of COVID-19 cases in states like Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio and others where state leaders and health experts have said new cases in those areas are linked to trips taken to Myrtle Beach.
South Carolina saw nine consecutive weeks of hotel occupancy growth, hitting 58% the week before July 4, Parish said.
All that changed the week of July 4, traditionally one of the busiest weekends for tourism along the Grand Strand.
According to Parrish, statewide hotel occupancy numbers dropped 6% from the previous week to 52% for the week ending July 4.
“Clearly the national publicity surrounding the number of cases has had an impact on tourism, not just for South Carolina but for other states too,” Parrish said.
Across the Grand Strand, where tourism is the lifeblood of the economy, data from a weekly tourism economic study by Coastal Carolina University echoes that impact.
Horry County and municipalities like Myrtle Beach began allowing hotels to accept guests starting May 15.
From that point on, week-to-week occupancy numbers trended upwards until the end of June, reaching a peak of 78.5% for the week ending June 27, CCU’s data shows.
A report by CCU’s Clay Brittain Jr. Center for Resort Tourism, out Thursday, shows those number slid nearly 15 points last week to 64%.
That’s a 29.2% drop when compared to the same week in 2019, pre-pandemic.
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise across S.C., tourism officials will no doubt continue to keep an eye on occupancy numbers for the rest of the summer.
“I implore everyone residents and visitors alike, be smart, wear a mask, keep your distance, wash your hands, be smart when you go out, but be smart enjoy all that South Carolina has to offer, but do it wisely,” Parrish said.