SC’s head of tourism predicts travel surge by fall

SC’s head of tourism predicts travel surge by fall
Gov. Henry McMaster will speak Monday afternoon on the state’s tourism and travel industries. (Source: WIS)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - One of South Carolina’s biggest industries is recovering a lot slower than the rest.

“Right now we are five times the unemployment of any industry in our state, the lowest to recover by far,” South Carolina Parks, Recreation and Tourism Director Duane Parrish said.

While the tourism and hospitality workers are hoping for a busy summer season, industry leaders and economics are setting their sights on the fall.

Parrish said the summer will be more of an on-ramp for the state’s hospitality industry. He said good weather and a successful vaccine rollout over the next couple of months will help get people back to traveling more frequently.

But, he says, restarting tourism, a sector that makes up to 10 to 15 percent of our economy, won’t happen overnight.

“It doesn’t flip a switch over night, it’s a small, it’s a gradual walk, jog, run process, it’s a gradual climb,” he said. “Even when I say, ‘the summer crescendo’, even if they are not traveling they make reservations in the summer for the fall. So I think there’s a lot of momentum going through the rest of the year.”

His hope is that once people feel safer, they will come to the Palmetto State in droves.

“The cabin fever is at 10 months right now and it will be even higher soon,” Parrish said. “I expect visitors to come out in the late summer early fall, and I think the fall will be a big big time for tourism, and quite frankly a time for our tourism industry to get back on its feet.

University of South Carolina Economist Joey Von Nessen said earlier on Monday that the state’s tourism and hospitality industry is still down 15 percent from where it was before the pandemic.

Other industries like manufacturing are back to their pre-pandemic employment levels. Von Nessen said education and healthcare are 5% below their pre-pandemic levels.

Von Nessen said when it comes to tourism and hospitality, it is a problem is a problem biology needs to solve, not economics.

Parrish spoke Monday at the annual Governor’s Conference during which Gov. Henry McMaster praised the state’s economic comeback, something he credited largely to his accelerateSC task force that provided recommendations on handling the pandemic.

“We put together a plan for how we were going to proceed and how we were going to stay open, and it worked,” he said.

He said other states “went way overboard” by not thinking it through. Some of them, he said, are still not open and will struggle to reopen.

McMaster said South Carolina home sales in January were up 19% over January 2020, which he attributes to the state’s decision to not close.

“We have more resources, we have more positive things than they do in most states,” he said.

But he warned there are three things the state must be careful about and work hard to strengthen: education, the economy and the environment.

“And without all three, none of the others work,” he said. “So that’s is what we are determined to do.”

McMaster said he hopes to lift his “last call” executive order which stops alcohol sales after 11 p.m. He said he hopes to get rid of that order “soon,” but said he is still looking into more data like vaccination rates and hospitalizations before making that decision.

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