Myrtle Beach sees record tourism, hotel development follows suit

Published: Jun. 11, 2015 at 9:48 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 12, 2015 at 2:39 AM EDT
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MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Myrtle Beach continues to break its own tourism records year after year.

The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce said 17.2 million visitors came through Myrtle Beach last year, which is an increase of 25 percent since 2009.

Prior to the recession the all-time high for tourism in Myrtle Beach was 15 million visitors in 2007. That number then dropped by 2 million tourists in 2009 and has been rising steadily since then.

The chamber cites various reasons for the increase including improved air service, advertising and infrastructure.

The marketing budget in particular is benefiting from the tourism development fee put in place in 2009. It's $20 million more now than it was before that fee started bringing in more money. The funds are used to run digital and television ads throughout the year in 75 markets.

Those advertisements combined with the boardwalk and new attractions are what the owner of the Bowery credits for a much busier downtown area compared to when the pavilion was removed.

"There's a big difference in how many tables were filled up this year on a Saturday compared to a Saturday four, five years ago," said Victor Shamah, who owns the Bowery. "I would say it's up 60-70 percent from five years ago."

Hotel construction is also now rebounding after being hit during the recession. Mark Kruea, spokesperson for the city of Myrtle Beach, said four hotels are either about to open, under construction or undergoing the approval process.

Occupancy levels have been rising steadily over the past few years. There was a 10% increase in average occupancy in hotels, condo hotels and campsites between 2010 and last year, said Taylor Damonte, of the Brittain Center for Resort Tourism.

"Inventory has been basically fixed since 2010. As more and more people come here each year, the occupancy rate has increased," Damonte said.

He said he predicts hotel development is still going to be slow going for the next couple of years.

"If you are opening a new property, it may be a break even proposition if you have convention space and brand affiliation," he said.

However, Warren & Harmon Commercial Interiors has been seeing business pick up, especially since December, according to Tom Lindsay, an interior designer.. The company designs areas like hotel lobbies or the inside of condominiums.

"The uptick with us is that people are coming back, the economy is coming back, people are spending money," he said. "I have new homeowners that are coming through and buying condos."

The chamber is still working to attract more visitors during the off-season because hotel capacity is 20 million people, which Myrtle Beach still isn't reaching.

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