MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - As the first 2010 bike rally in the Grand Strand approaches, some hotel owners and managers say they are seeing another year of disappointing occupancy levels.
"Our occupancy numbers are down without the bikers coming because they make plans well in advance," explained hotel manager James Eggen. "They'll stay three, four, five days, a week."
Eggen is with Myrtle Beach Seaside Resorts, which manages large resort hotels in North Myrtle Beach and small hotels in Myrtle Beach. Heading into Bike Week, reservations are not what he had hoped, especially inside Myrtle Beach city limits.
He said efforts by some city leaders in Myrtle Beach to eliminate the traditional May bike rallies have affected all areas of the Grand Strand, including the Avista Resort in North Myrtle Beach where he is the general manager.
Robert Kelly has expressed concerns about efforts to end the bike rallies since those efforts began.
He owns a hotel also in North Myrtle Beach and two on US-501 just outside Myrtle Beach. He is also a founding member and the President of Business Owners Organized to Support Tourism (BOOST), an organization that has spoken out against Myrtle Beach laws designed to deter the bike rallies. He said his reservations are down about 15 percent in North Myrtle Beach, and like Eggen said, the hotels with a Myrtle Beach address are faring even worse.
"We're running 30 to 40 percent lower on advanced bookings on the south end hotels versus compared to here in Myrtle Beach," Kelly said.
In Kelly's opinion, the numbers show with the efforts to end the bike rallies in Myrtle Beach, many bikers are not just avoiding that city - they have decided not to come to the Grand Strand at all.
"Even if you're in the county and you have a Myrtle Beach mailing address, you're still feeling the effects of what the city did," Kelly commented.
Eggen agreed that while the impact is not as bad in North Myrtle Beach, there are still fewer bikers. He said other events such as Society of Shaggers (SOS) gatherings and Mayfest on Main are helping, but it takes time for festivals to become established enough to bring in large numbers of tourists for one event.
"We do have a lot of street festivals that we're very proud of, and it does help our numbers," Eggen said. "The bikes not coming is certainly three weeks out of the month of May, which you fill up with mid-week, which you don't see, and it's hard to take that over. It may take years, if ever to bring back people mid-week. So I think that's just going to be a loss in May that we can't bring back, and we'll just have to find other ways to fill our hotels hopefully."
For Eggen, it is filling the mid-week vacancies that is the biggest challenge. He said people who come in for festivals simply do not stay in the area as long as bikers who come for rallies.
"You really don't have the same travelers who take off an entire week. If you have a festival, they'll come down for two days, maybe three days," Eggen said. "So I don't think you can ever make up for lost revenue, but I think it would certainly add to the community to have more events more functions. You might bring in more people who hadn't come"
Kelly said he is also hoping some alternatives to the bike rallies will be successful. He said he welcomes anything that will fill his hotel rooms. He just is not sure anything can do that like bike rallies once did.
"If city leaders or county leaders, or state leaders can find a way to do that, that would be great," Kelly said. "But the month of May was our second best month behind July, and now it's nowhere close."