Outlook is brighter for 2010, CCU economist says

Myrtle Beach, SC - By Jennifer Grove - bio | email

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - The economy is looking up, according to Coastal Carolina University Research Economist Donald Schunk, who is traveling to Wilmington Tuesday to give an update at the 'Cashing in on Tourism' Economic Growth Summit.

Schunk says the greatest economic issue currently facing coastal areas is over-development.

"I can tell you that the economy is growing," Schunk said. "I can tell you that retail sales are growing, but the typical business is not yet feeling improvements because frankly there are too many of those businesses."

Schunk says it will take some time before business supply balances out with consumer demand and translates into job growth and increased income.

Schunk does have positive news for hotels along the coast, where hopes are up for a more profitable summer season.

"I believe people have a little more money to spend this year," Oceans One General Manager Ray Booth said, adding that visitors seem to be less cautious about spending compared to last year.

Schunk agrees: "The recession is clearly over in many ways," he explained. "Not necessarily in the way people care about [like] creating jobs and income, those important measures, but the economy is no longer shrinking. The economy is starting to grow again."

Schunk says spending appeared to bottom out in late summer of 2009, but says that visitors will still likely be keeping a tight watch on their wallets.

He says those that come here and spend the money and stay in the hotels are not going to be spending as much on some other kinds of attractions and amusements.

That means consumers will continue to find ways to cut down on costs.

Michelle Kennedy, who is visiting Myrtle Beach from Canada with her husband Jim, agrees.

"People are not eating out all of the time," Kennedy said. "They're doing the breakfast and lunch in their condominiums or they're asking for kitchenettes in hotels."

Hotels should benefit regardless, as long as they continue to fill rooms.

"I think that hotels are going to be able to see some relief from the deep discounts they had to offer last year," Schunk said. "I think that is slowly going to start to go away this year."

So far the Kennedys say they are not convinced consumers are willing to pay higher prices.

"I think that if they keep them steady they'll get the rooms booked," Jim said. "If they raise them up, then people may be second guessing where they want to go."

For Booth, he says it will take a joint effort up and down the beach to support the rates they are looking to charge. He says continuing big discounts like many hotels offered last summer could cut their bottom line along with their hopes for a more promising summer.

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