MYR arrivals break record, hotel occupancy down in summer 2017; Season labeled ‘unpredictable’

A record number of passengers flew in to Myrtle Beach International Airport in July, creating a two-month passenger total of nearly 293,000 — about 15 percent more than the same period last year.

Those passengers, however, did not translate into overall growth in numbers at hotels, condos and campgrounds, according to the Clay Brittain Jr. Center for Resort Tourism, who tracks occupancy rates in Myrtle Beach. Mid-June through the start of August lodging numbers at hotels and condos showed a 3.7 percent decrease from the same time last year, the study shows.

Brad Dean, Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive officer, said higher July hotel rates and unfavorable media attention surrounding a June 18 shooting on Ocean Boulevard captured on Facebook Live.

“We continue to see strong growth in airport arrivals which is a sign of more new visitors flying to our community, but at the same time we’ve seen some softening in the drive-in market in July,” Dean said via email. “The summer started off strong but the publicity surrounding the incident on Ocean Boulevard definitely affected the pace of summer bookings. Also, in recent years, we’ve seen hotel prices reach peak levels in July and that may be pushing some budget-conscious visitors to June or August.”

Mark Lazarus, Horry County Council’s chairman and managing partner for several tourism-driven businesses like Wild Water and Wheels, Broadway Grand Prix and Myrtle Waves Waterpark, said the Grand Prix had a strong spring, while both waterparks were off to a slow start this summer because of later summer vacations for some families visiting from the north.

“June was affected two ways,” Lazarus said. “One, schools got our real late, especially the northern schools. The second factor is we had a lot of rain in June than we had the year before. A lot of people book their trips now, especially last-minute trips, they book them online and then watch The Weather Channel. And I’m thinking the weather had some effect on those statistics. I know it did in my business.”

The National Weather Service in Wilmington, N.C., recorded a half-inch of rain more this June than June 2016 at its closest measuring station in North Myrtle Beach.

Lazarus said the Fourth of July landing on a Tuesday this summer fooled some business owners that travelers may opt to take a full week of vacation, reaping the rewards of two weekends, rather than an extended weekend.

“Really that never materialized,” Lazarus said of the week-long stay. “I think, maybe, with the rates being a little higher during that time may have affected it.”

The lodging report shows the average daily rate for hotels and condos was up 3.3 percent compared with the equivalent weeks of 2016.

Adding to the shooting and higher July rates to a summer he called “unpredictable,” Dean said a long awaited re-nourishment project was approved by the federal government and started immediately, which occurred during peak weeks and frustrated some businesses and visitors.

He also pointed to an “unverified social media post related to an injury from a beach chair” that attracted a lot of attention via social media and may have had an impact on decisions to come to Myrtle Beach.

“We’ve seen several ups and downs this summer and much of it has been unpredictable,” Dean said.

Kirk Lovell, director of Air Service and Business Development at the Horry County Department of Airports, which operates MYR, said July arrivals at the airport was slightly more than 152,000 in July, which was 13 percent higher than July 2016, and 65 percent higher than the total arrivals for July 2012.

Added flights and new nonstop service from airlines like Spirit, Allegiant, Delta and American contributed to the growing numbers.

“Demand for Myrtle Beach from markets around the United States is strong,” Lovell said. “Passenger counts from the northeast remain the strongest, followed by the Midwest. However, with the growth by our partners into MYR, we have seen strong demand indicators from around the United States during spring, summer, and fall.”

In 2013, MYR opened its new terminal and in recent years, it has undergone the repaving of its only runway, taxiway repairs, and an expansion of long-term parking. With record-breaking growth occurring this summer and a strong fall on the horizon, Lovell said airport leadership continues to monitor future needs.

“The record-breaking passenger volumes at the airport are being studied to understand our short and long-term facility needs,” Lovell said. “Based on current passenger trends and seat capacity scheduled by our airline partners, 2017 has the possibility of being a record-breaking year.”

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