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Charleston a top destination in US for flights, short-term rentals this Labor Day

Charleston airport passengers (copy)

Passengers walk through Charleston International Airport. According to an assessment by Adobe, the delta variant of COVID-19 has slowed new bookings for flights, but Charleston's terminal will likely be busy this holiday weekend: It ranked in the top 10 domestic destinations for Labor Day. File/Lauren Petracca/Staff

More Americans are holding off on making travel plans or booking flights because of the rapidly spreading delta variant.

But based on recent indicators and predictions for the holiday weekend, it's likely Charleston will still be busy with tourists this Labor Day.

The airport in North Charleston is one of the top 10 domestic destinations where fliers are arriving for the end-of-summer holiday, according to an Adobe Digital Economy Index analysis.

Other top U.S. destinations include Honolulu, Denver, Orlando, Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Another report put the state's two most popular tourist spots, Charleston and Myrtle Beach, near the top for the most bookings at short-rentals for the weekend. 

The short-term rental tracking site AirDNA said Myrtle Beach ranked fourth in the nation, and Charleston came in at No. 14.

Unlike hotels, South Carolina's short-term rentals saw little drop in demand during 2020 and have continued to post strong numbers. By the end of July, the number of nights sold at the state's vacation rentals was up nearly 23 percent from the same period pre-pandemic. 

Most Labor Day travel estimates point to a slowdown for what was a fairly dramatic recovery for tourism early in the summer. 

Adobe's analysis found that, in June, U.S. consumers spent only 5 percent less on domestic flights than they had in 2019. In contrast, Americans spent about a third less on domestic flights during the first three weeks of August than they had before COVID-19. 

Still, South Carolina hasn't seen a significant slowdown in its tourism metrics — at least not yet.

Gary Edwards, a consultant between the Charleston County Aviation Authority and Explore Charleston, said he's not aware of a letup in bookings at Charleston International. 

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"We have had robust traffic every weekend this past summer, and we don't expect that to change this weekend," Edwards said. 

In terms of hotel data, there has been "no indication" that the delta variant has hurt demand in Charleston, said Daniel Guttentag, director of the College of Charleston's Office of Tourism Analysis. 

Last week, occupancy was roughly the same as it was during the same week in 2019, while the average room rate was 11 percent higher. That continues a trend that's been building for most of the summer, Guttentag said.

Though Labor Day tourist traffic has been hindered at times by the threat of hurricanes, the long weekend typically provides a boost to the industry when severe weather isn't a factor. 

"I suspect we'll see a jump," he said. 

Meanwhile, coronavirus cases have risen so high in South Carolina that the state now has the highest per capita case rate in the country

The state also has one of the lower vaccination rates in the U.S. About half of eligible residents aren't fully vaccinated yet. 

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said this week that unvaccinated people should avoid traveling this weekend. During a White House briefing on Aug. 31, she said that even people who have the shots should also take "these risks into their own consideration as they think about traveling."

The delta variant has made fully vaccinated people more wary of flying, the travel site The Points Guy found. About half of vaccinated people surveyed feel less comfortable flying domestically now because of the delta variant compared to earlier this summer. 

About the same share of vaccinated respondents also are more concerned about attending indoor events, and 45 percent are worried to dine indoors.

Fewer people — vaccinated or unvaccinated — have concerns about going to state or national parks or beaches, the report found.

South Carolina tourism officials have continued to stress that beaches and outdoor activities have enabled the state's travel industry to recover at a faster rate than most.

Warren Wise contributed reporting. Reach Emily Williams at 843-607-0894. Follow her on Twitter @emilye_williams.

Emily Williams is a business reporter at The Post and Courier, covering tourism and aerospace. She also writes the Business Headlines newsletter and co-hosts the weekly news podcast Understand SC.

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