CHARLESTON, S.C. — The lowest gas prices in years and a robust economy should combine for another record year for South Carolina’s $18 billion tourism industry.
“The economy has strengthened, fuel prices are low and consumer confidence is solid,” said Brad Dean, the president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. “The tourism industry throughout South Carolina is bullish about 2015.”
“I think 2015 will be a third straight year of record numbers,” added Duane Parrish, the director of the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.
A key indicator for the industry, revenue per available room, was up 11.2 percent last year. Nationally, the figure was up 8.2 percent.
“A good year for the country and even a better year for South Carolina,” Parrish said.
The tourism season gears up this week with the Governor’s Conference on Tourism and Travel in Myrtle Beach and then the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition which attracts about 40,000 visitors to Charleston.
Then it’s the busy spring season when hundreds of thousands flock to Charleston’s historic homes and gardens in bloom.
Mac Burdette, executive director of the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum said the variety of Charleston attractions — the beach, restaurants, historic sites and aquarium — makes it easier to get people to his museum.
“While the historic city is why a lot of people come here, it’s the array of things to do that makes this a special place,” he said. “It’s kind of like why Lowe’s locates across from Home Depot. We don’t look at it as competition. We’re all in this together.”
A postcard of the South Carolina tourism industry entering the 2015 season:
CHARLESTON STILL NO. 1
In 2014, for the fourth straight year, Charleston was voted the top domestic tourist destination by readers of Conde Naste Traveler Magazine. It was also named the No. 2 destination worldwide.
REFURBISHING HILTON HEAD
The resort island has almost $300 million in renovations underway to hotels and other attractions. The island already features 24 golf courses and more than 250 restaurants.
The $12 million Myrtle Beach Sports Center stages its first events next month at a complex including eight basketball and 16 volleyball courts. The idea is to attract amateur tournaments and with the athletes, their families and dollars.
NEW EVENTS THIS YEAR
The inaugural Carolina Country Music Festival will be staged on the Myrtle Beach boardwalk in June. It features 35 acts including such stars as Lady Antebellum and Big & Rich. In Charleston, May brings the Charleston Insider’s Weekend. Visitors can experience Charleston’s history, shopping and food at events hosted by leading magazine editors and locals.
“There are more direct flights to more major cities from our state than there have ever been in the past,” Parrish said. That helps, he said, when 20 percent of visitors arrive by air.
Gas prices always climb into the summer months. But Dean said prices don’t seem to discourage visitation until they reach $4 a gallon or so. Parish expects them to stay below $3.