Tourism businesses have hope for summer

The Grand Strand tourism industry hopes the drop seen this spring will not deepen into the summer.

Air travel has already started to dip and hotels saw business drop between 5 percent and 10 percent this spring. With gas prices shooting up in the months leading up to the crucial summer season, businesses in this drive market are worried about family travel decisions.

“The mood amongst most businesses is nervously optimistic,” said Brad Dean, president and chief executive officer of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

A Coastal Carolina University economist this week said things are looking worse for the summer than he expected earlier in the year.

The silver lining is that people will still come here, they just will spend less and stay for fewer days, CCU's Don Schunk said.

People are waiting longer to book their vacations, which has kept hoteliers on edge.

Businesses have looked at May bike traffic as a sign. Traffic seemed to be down compared with previous years, even during good weather, Dean said.

To try to entice travelers to break out their credit cards, the chamber added language about discounts and deals to its ads in the spring, and responses spiked. “Every traveler is becoming a deal hunter, and this is definitely a buyers' year,” Dean said.

People are also responding to ads later in the season than usual, Dean said, meaning travelers are still waiting for the last minute to make decisions.

“I don't think anybody's throwing in the towel,” he said. “We're certainly not conceding that the summer is going to be disappointing.”