Myrtle Beach hotels and resorts faced a soft beginning to the summer, but many are bouncing back as the tourist season reaches its height.
The spring season was particularly strong, helped by the fact that Easter fell in March, industry leaders and business owners said. But June, the official start to the high summer season, did not prove as steady for some.
Taylor Damonte, director of the Brittain Center for Resort Tourism at Coastal Carolina University, said that across lodging, occupancy rates were down between 1 and 2 percent for the first month of the summer tourism season.
For some, it was worse. Kim Sanborn, vice president of operations for Wyndham Vacation Rentals, said that occupancy across the company’s nine Myrtle Beach properties was down by 5 percent from April through June.
Wyndham, which has roughly 1,400 rooms in the area, could have been impacted by several factors. Sanborn said she was uncertain what exactly caused the dip, but said that false reports early in the year about poor ocean water quality may have scared some guests away from the beach.
“I do think that has something to do with it. Nobody can quantify such a thing, but we do get that sense that that has impacted us,” Sanborn said. “We got a decent amount of calls into our call center.”
Tom Moore, general manager for Hampton Inn & Suites Oceanfront, said that he also had more open rooms than usual in June. “It picked up as the month went on,” he said. “The first two weeks were real soft. We were worried.”
The first two weeks were real soft. We were worried.
Tom Moore, general manager at Hampton Inn & Suites Oceanfront
Brad Dean, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said that the first two weeks of June tend to be touch-and-go for businesses that serve tourists. However, he said, concerns about water quality were present at the beginning of the year.
“A steady campaign of misinformation on water quality has prompted many calls and a number of cancellations, but thankfully, many consumers are savvy enough to fact-check the hype,” Dean said.
Moore instead blamed changing school schedules across the country for his slow start. About 90 percent of the customers for his 227 rooms come from outside the Carolinas, and many are families, he said. This year, many schools had to add days to the end of the year to make up for snow closings, which kept them in school later in June, he said.
However, the first months of the summer were not a loss for Moore, because he said he was able to charge more per room. Across the industry, hotels and resorts have benefitted from higher room rates, particularly helping those who had lower occupancy at the start of the season, Damonte said.
While room rates have remained mostly flat for the last seven years, consumers are less sensitive to price this year, allowing hoteliers to charge higher rates, Damonte said.
“It’s only in this last year and a half that we’ve seen pricing power start to come back,” he said.
It’s only in this last year and a half that we’ve seen [lodging] pricing power start to come back.
Taylor Damonte, Coastal Carolina University
The end of the summer may vary for hoteliers in the Myrtle Beach area. Moore said that while his business used to drop off significantly towards the end of August, he now sees a decline in guests starting around Aug. 7, also because of changing school year calendars. This week brought a sold-out hotel, possibly because of Mustang Week, he said, but his bookings for next month are sparse.
However, properties that fear a weak end of the year now may not have one as tourist season winds down. Stephen Greene, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Hospitality Association, said consumers are making travel decisions with less notice, sometimes to the point where a visitor might make a call on a Wednesday to book a room for Friday.
Matt Klugman, director of sales and marketing for Vacation Myrtle Beach, said the summer has gone well for the 14 properties his company manages. Occupancy has been similar to last year across the company’s almost 3,500 rooms, and June proved a strong month, aided by visitors coming to town for Carolina Country Music Fest, he said. His resorts have also been able to charge higher rates than last year.
Some of the trick to that, he said, has been waiting out consumers and not dropping room rates if they’re not booked well in advance.
“It’s a changing world and people’s habits are changing. People will use their mobile phone to book on the way into town,” Klugman said.
Not that it it wasn’t stressful to get to that point. “Our nerves are so fried at this point that we don’t really overreact if the bookings come in a little bit later,” he said.