Grand Strand to see lots of tourists this weekend as occupancy rates are up for Easter weekend

Cacationers enjoy themselves on the beach in Myrtle Beach last year. Each year about 14 million visitors are drawn by the 60 miles of beaches along the northeast coast of South Carolina. The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce is now working with a national group, BrandUSA, to draw more foreign visitors to the area.

MYRTLE BEACH - This Easter weekend should be a strong one for tourism along the Grand Strand, the heart of South Carolina's $18 billion tourism industry -after what already has proven to be a busy March.

The lodging update released Thursday by the Brittain Center for Resort Tourism at Coastal Carolina University forecasts that occupancy will run about 93 percent Thursday and Friday nights. That is based on a sample of lodgings in Horry and Georgetown counties.

And reservations indicate almost 80 percent occupancy for next week. Researchers say that's an increase of almost 92 percent over the same week a year ago. But the Passover and Easter holidays were earlier last year.

It's unclear if this weekend's rainy forecast will dampen those numbers.

AAA Carolinas reports that, while gas prices have increased 36 cents per gallon since Christmas, they are still about a penny a gallon less than last Easter.

Meanwhile, it already has been a good spring for drawing air travelers to South Carolina's Grand Strand.

The Sun News of Myrtle Beach reported that the Myrtle Beach International Airport recorded its busiest March in six years.

More than 69,000 people flew into Myrtle Beach last month, almost 5,000 more than last March. In all, about 3,200 more people have flown to the beach this year than in the first three months of 2013.

Airport director Pat Apone says the March numbers indicate a strong spring season. Figures for the first two months of this year were down a bit because of this year's winter storms.

South Carolina's $18 billion tourism industry is centered in the Myrtle Beach area, which is offering a number of ways to celebrate Easter this weekend.

On Saturday, the Easter Bunny will be having breakfast at Ripley's Aquarium and Hard Rock Cafe at Broadway at the Beach in Myrtle Beach. The bunny will be on hand throughout the day with games and prizes. It all ends with a fireworks display.

Also Saturday, there will be egg hunts in Bucksport, North Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach.