'Spring breakers' are absent in Myrtle Beach

Clocks have jumped ahead an hour, pollen is everywhere and the temperature is rising. Though the official turn of the season is days away, the usual stream of college students in Myrtle Beach for spring break seems to be absent.

A tour of Ocean Boulevard Wednesday showed flashing vacancy signs and few rooms with lights on. The college students dotting the shoreline were primarily from Coastal Carolina University.

Jason Anderson, general manager at the Court Capri, said most of the rooms there have been booked by people in town for the “Run to the Sun XXIV” Car and Truck Show that started Thursday. He said their spring break customers come later in the season though last week he said a few from the University of South Carolina visited.

Kelvin “Swag” Deveaux is a freshman at CCU. He said he spent the first weekend of his break back in Abbeville visiting his family, before heading back to the beach.

“This is one of the main reasons why I came here because of the beach and the girls,” he said. “This is one of the major tourist spots, so why would I leave here?”

Swag and other Chanticleers mixed with a group from Mars Hill College, located outside Asheville, N.C., to play football on the beach. He was happy they weren’t alone.

“Let everybody come, the more the merrier,” Swag said. “It’s not my turf by any means. If no one was down here it’d be boring, so the more people that come down, it’ll be more fun.”

One couple traveled from Virginia Commonwealth University with no real plans, just a couple of backpacks and a car. Hari Nagarajan and Kathleen Lau said they were going to go to Florida, though they didn’t make any reservations.

“We had a full tank of gas, a smart phone and a GPS so we just left,” Lau said. “We wanted to say we went to Florida for break, so classic.”

Nagarajan said they made it to Charleston before getting bored. After spending some time in the historical port town, they headed to Myrtle Beach.

The pair wore masks at the beach. Iron Man for Nagarajan and a Star Wars storm trooper for Lau.

“We went to target to get swimsuits, we didn’t pack swim suits,” Lau said. “We saw these masks and we had to get them and a bag of jellybeans. The essentials.”

Myrtle Beach recently landed on another survey ranking spring break destinations, this time named Myrtle Beach ahead of Key West, Cancun and Panama City Beach.

Earlier in the year Myrtle Beach was also named No. 5 on the Top 10 Trashiest Spring Break destinations by which looked at the number of Hooters restaurants, strip clubs, liquor stores and tattoo parlors. Hosting biker rallies also came into play.

It’s not yet clear whether either survey hindered or helped bring tourists to Myrtle Beach before the high season.

Nora Hembree-Battle, spokeswoman for the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said there haven’t been signs or specific research to insist the rating lists either brought people to town or kept them away.

Despite the vacancy signs glowing red and yellow, Battle said member businesses with the MBACC are reporting strong spring bookings. Additionally, Battle said traffic to the website was record breaking in January with a 33 percent rise in site viewing from the previous year.

The most recent lodging reports from the Clay Brittain Jr. Center for Resort Tourism released on March 15 indicated a 37.7 percent average midweek occupancy rate. That number is even with numbers from 2011.

The weekend rate was 52.9 percent, which is down by 15 percent from 2011. The center predicted higher rates for this weekend, however, estimating occupancy rates to hit 78 percent overnight Friday and Saturday based in part to the warming weather.