Easter, fuel prices drive tourists to Grand Strand

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - This holiday weekend Myrtle Beach is bustling and members of the hospitality industry have noticed.

Many hotels and restaurants are bringing in extra staff members for the influx of tourists visiting the Grand Strand this week. While it typically starts to pick up this time of year, a few key reasons have made this weekend especially busy.

According to a study at Coastal Carolina University, hotel occupancy in the Grand Strand is at 82.6 percent this weekend. That's up an impressive 23.7 percent compared to this same weekend last year. One hotel manager says it seems like the off-season has almost disappeared. He believes the timing of Easter makes all the difference.

"The key is when Easter falls. Sometimes it's at the end of April, and it factors in a bit differently. But with it being at the beginning of April, and next year I believe it's at the end of March, it's going to really be huge. When Easter falls is really the factor," explained Andrew Gorman, Manager at the Hampton Inn and Suites.

Another reason for the increase in visitors is gas prices. In South Carolina, the average is at $2.10 currently – a full dollar, and 21 cents cheaper than local fuel prices this weekend in 2014.

Road trips have grown increasingly popular in the Unites States, and many local business owners believe these low gas prices entice many travelers to spend time in Myrtle Beach. "I feel like it definitely helps, especially with gas being as low as it is in this area. I know its a lot cheaper in this area than it is in other parts of the state especially in North Carolina, and the other bordering states – Georgia and what not. So, I feel like that has a lot to do with it," added Jonathan Jeffries, Assistant Manager at King Street Grille.

Experts at AAA agree that both the timing of the Easter holiday, and drop in fuel prices are the driving factors of the current spike in tourism locally.

"We are seeing a huge change with people right now saying hey, fuel prices are low, we're getting in our car and we're going. Typically, we see an increase right at the Easter holiday because of all the spring breaks going on, and then once again we tend to see an increase right around Memorial Day," said Tracie Lawrence, Manager at AAA, Myrtle Beach.

The Hampton Inn and Suites is one of the busiest hotels in the Grand Strand this weekend. It's at 98.7% occupancy.

AAA expects gas prices to drop even lower than they are now, and continue that decrease throughout the summer season.

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