Gas prices, traffic, and tourism: What to know ahead of Memorial Day weekend in SC

Updated: May. 24, 2021 at 6:33 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - More than half a million South Carolina residents are expected to travel this holiday weekend.

According to AAA, the 600,000 people forecast to take a trip Memorial Day weekend is a 60% increase from 2020 when social distancing rules, mask requirements, and beach restrictions were imposed up and down the coast.

But the long weekend isn’t expected to break records according to AAA and the SC Dept. of Parks, Recreation & Tourism.

“We are expecting to see good numbers particularly along the coast,” said Parks, Recreation & Tourism spokesperson Sam Queen. “But it’s not necessarily going to be a huge jump compared to recent weeks or compared to future weeks going forward. We’re not going to see a massive Memorial Day weekend jump in occupancy.”

Queen said this makes it possible to still book a last-minute trip, but people may need to get creative or adventurous.

Travel numbers for Memorial Day are still down 13.3% from pre-pandemic levels, according to AAA.

Queen said between the lack of lockdowns, the gas shortage improving, and sunny and warm weekends, a lot of people have already eased their cabin fever.

“Really for the past few weeks we’ve seen folks taking advantage of our warm weather and traveling down to South Carolina,” Queen said.

She said the busy weekends leading up to Memorial Day have given businesses a chance to prepare for larger crowds and for some to work out how to operate with smaller staff due to the pandemic.

However, just because travel is not reaching pre-pandemic levels statewide, some coastal towns may be busier than others.

According to AAA, Myrtle Beach is the third most popular road trip destination for travelers this holiday weekend. Las Vegas is the most popular destination and Orlando is the second most popular.

Holding the state back some is a decline in business and international travel. Queen said South Carolina is a popular destination for tourists from Canada and Europe, but people in those countries may still be facing COVID-19 restrictions or have not had the opportunity to get vaccinated yet.

For domestic travelers, the gas shortage that has caused long lines and empty pumps that were rampant across the southeast earlier this month is starting to improve.

“It may require a bit of legwork, but it’s possible,” said a spokesperson for Gas Buddy.

28.7% of gas stations in South Carolina are reporting outages, but it varies by region.

40% of stations in the Columbia area are out of gas compared to the 35% around Myrtle Beach, 26% in the Greenville-Spartanburg region, 17% in Charleston, and 7% around Savannah.

Thankfully for drivers, prices are improving slightly, but are still higher than the pre-pandemic average.

As of Monday, the average price of gas in the Palmetto State was $2.82, which was 19¢ higher than it was in 2019 but more than a dollar higher than gas was this time last year.

Queen sees all these indicators as a sign of progress, but not a full return to normalcy.

“It’s coming back, we are just being patient,” she said.

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