Even with recent temperatures in the 50s, Mary Curry stays busy at East Islands Rentals replying to customer e-mails, answering calls and booking beach houses.
"We get traffic," says Curry, an owner of the vacation rental business that oversees 22 Isle of Palms homes - all but three on the beachfront.
The catch is, many of those rental inquiries come from families, groups and couples who are looking to book stays seven to 10 months from now.
"We are over half full for summer already," she says.
That makes sense. After all, the Beach Boys didn't exactly make it big writing songs about wearing a jacket for a stroll in the sand or anxiously awaiting the next polar bear swim.
Yet the Lowcountry's winter vacation season hardly proves a wash out. Holidays in particular pack in guests.
"We were basically full for Thanksgiving," Curry says. "They literally come here for Christmas, too. They set up a tree (and celebrate). And we get a good bit on New Year's," she says.
Next week expects to be extra busy for Pam Harrington of Pam Harrington Exclusives, whose vacation rental business leases out 140 properties on Kiawah Island and another 80 houses on neighboring Seabrook Island.
The annual Kiawah Marathon takes place Dec. 14, she explains, attracting a healthy number of athletic-minded visitors.
All the same, Harrington agrees that rentals trail off during the off-season except around holidays, major attractions or an unusually warm and dry winter. After New Year's, everything "calms down" until the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition in mid February, she says.
"What we are doing in the meantime is getting ready for spring," Harrington says.
While attendance clearly drops off in the more frigid times of year, the business hardly disappears.
Even a non-holiday time can prove attractive to certain vacationers. "We get some, if you will, snowbirds," Curry says, referring to travelers from colder climates who head south for the winter. "They stay a little longer," she says.
Another category: Local people come to the beach," she says. "We call it a 'staycation.'"
Harrington acknowledges the off-season "does help" the business. With schools in session, off-season visitors tend to be empty nesters or seniors who stay as long as a month or two rather than a week or less, she says. They arrive from as far as Canada and Maine to escape the cold and snow, Harrington says.
The rental business also has its share of winter regulars. "We do have several renters who have been with us for years," she says.
Travelers who choose the off-season to visit the Charleston area can save quite a bit on beach rentals. Except for holidays, East Islands Rentals' rates drop by more than 50 percent for some houses during the slower and less temperate mid October to mid March period, Curry says.
As one of the smaller vacation rental businesses on the beach, East Islands Rentals takes a direct approach to attracting tourists in the colder weather months.
"We try to follow up as much as possible," Curry says. "We try to send out e-mails to past customers. We do a tremendous amount of Internet advertising" and run ads in media outlets such as The Post and Courier, she says.
To boost revenues during the off-season, East Islands Rentals hikes rates during the holidays. The company also requires stays of a week or more, rather than the usual weekend minimum.
The off-season can give homeowners a short break from the repetition of year-round rentals. "They have to have some downtime for repairs," Curry says. "This is also a time homeowners come and use their homes," she says.
East Islands Rentals logged a good year overall and had a particularly strong fall, Curry says. "I think comparatively we were doing well."
The real estate market has largely recovered from the housing slide and national recession dating to 2008, but it was still feeling lingering effects not that long ago, Harrington says. The 2012 PGA Championship held at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course rallied housing activity as well as the vacation rental trade.
This year, "We are (again) having the calls for summer and spring break (reservations)," she says.
Also, expect local vacation rental places to get the periodic dial-up from someone wanting to stay at the beach this month or next.
The wrinkle during the off-season involves people who see a weather report calling for higher than normal temperatures and sunny skies in the Charleston area, and they try to work in an instant vacation. "People make last minute plans," Curry says.
Even when the weather's not ideal, the Lowcountry is one of the better places for oceanside vacations, Curry says.
"I think some people think, 'You come to the beach, you swim in the ocean.'" But there's lots of other activities. Many people like to walk on the beach. "There are a lot of groups and couples who play golf." The Isle of Palms, she says, "is one of those places" that attracts families and groups year after year, including in the off-season months.
And then there's the trump card: historic Charleston. "I think they are missing the boat," Curry says, "if they don't work out a trip downtown."
Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or email@example.com.
The shoreline, such as here at Folly Beach, can attract good-sized crowds on warm sunny days any time of year (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).×
A brilliant scene at sunset greets visitors to Folly Beach (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).×
The ocean tides ebb and flow in front of Kiawah Island beachfront properties for vacation lease (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).×
Folly Beach properties such as 915 E. Ashley Ave. can be rented throughout the year (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).×
A back deck provides easy approaches to the sand and ocean at Folly Beach (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).×
Kiawah Island beach properties stand out at night (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).×
Marsh walkovers give people access to the Atlantic Ocean at Folly Beach (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).×
Views from Folly Beach rental properties overlook rooftops throughout the community (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).×
Scenic views highlight a row of Kiawah Island beach houses (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).×
Oceanside porches are popular on Folly Beach houses bordering the sand (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).×
Many oceanfront properties on Folly Beach and elsewhere are leased out during parts or most of the year (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).×
A group of vacation rentals at Kiawah Island offer unobstructed sights of the Atlantic Ocean (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).×
A wooden walkway leads to and from the shore and dwellings at Kiawah Island overlooking the ocean (Photo by Laura Olsen/Olsen Imagery).×
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