Sun sets on successful summer for local tourism industry

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Sun sets on successful summer for local tourism industry

By GRANT MARTIN
gmartin@islandpacket.com
Published Friday, August 31, 2012   |  581 Words  |  

Officially, summer ends Sept. 22.

Unofficially -- at least for those in the local tourism industry -- it ends on Labor Day, ushered out in recent weeks by the sounds of ringing school bells.

Officially, this has been the best summer since the beginning of the economic downturn for Beaufort County hotels and rental agencies.

"We haven't finalized our August numbers yet, but our summer is up 12 to 15 percent over last year," said Bill Haley, vice president of marketing for Resort Rentals of Hilton Head. "That's a pretty good number."

He added that the sharp increase wasn't entirely unexpected, as the country emerges from a sluggish economy.

"There was a lot of pent-up demand from people who didn't take a vacation in the past few years," he said. "We had a lot of early bookings because of that. ... We knew it was going to be a really good summer."

The spike in visitors, however, was a pleasant surprise for Skip James, director of sales and marketing for the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort and Spa.

"Our group bookings were up more than 10 percent, and our overall rate and occupancy were up about 5 percent," he said. "That's actually a lot better than we expected."

James said rejuvenated confidence at the beginning of the year among corporations is primarily responsible for the boost in conventions and business meetings.

"A lot of corporations had profits early in the year when they schedule these conferences, and there was an optimism there," he said, adding that such group bookings account for about half of his resort's business.

The summer surge likely will be even greater next year, he said, citing the effects of recent and ongoing renovations at five seaside Hilton Head hotels.

Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Charlie Clark says occupancy and average daily rates charged at area hotels, condos and villas increased in May and June over their 2011 levels.

The July figures were not yet finalized, she said, but preliminary reports indicated another increase in occupancy and amount spent by tourists.

She added that the local tourism industry would likely be unaffected by skyrocketing gas prices in the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac.

"Historically, gas prices do not have an impact on our area as a destination," she said, but they may affect how much tourists spend locally upon their arrival.

The summer tourism boom also was felt in northern Beaufort County, according to Philip Carroway of the Holiday Inn Express in Beaufort.

He said summer rates and occupancy were both up about 5 percent over 2011, in line with the hotel's projections.

"It wasn't anything that shocked us," he said. "It seems to be improving every year."

He echoed Clark's opinion of the potential impact of rising prices at the pump.

"It's not an issue at this point, and we don't anticipate it becoming one," he said.

Follow reporter Grant Martin at twitter.com/LowCoBiz.

Related content:

Low gas prices fueling busy Memorial Day weekend at area hotels, rental businesses, May 24, 2012

Spring break sparks surge in Beaufort County tourism, Mar. 16, 2012