Primary primes S.C. visitor numbers, group says

Journalists surrounded U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz as he left a campaign event on the aircraft carrier Yorktown military museum at Patriots Point on Tuesday.

South Carolina’s tourism industry could yield a tidy wintertime boost from all the presidential primary politicking.

The U.S. Travel Association estimates that as many as 230,000 more hotel rooms could be booked in the Palmetto State as a result of the primary campaigning compared to non-election years. For the lodging business, that would bring in $24.2 million more in revenue, U.S. Travel said.

The Washington-D.C.-based industry trade group said it based its numbers off the past five presidential primaries held in South Carolina.

“While there are no reliable figures for exactly how many people will invade the Palmetto State specifically for the primaries — or for how long — economists say those figures are strong evidence of a politics-related surge,” the association said in a written statement.

If the estimates hold true, South Carolina could take in more than New Hampshire when it comes to benefiting from the primaries. U.S. Travel said “the effect in South Carolina appears to be far greater.”

For New Hampshire, the trade association’s economists estimate the primary brought a total of $8.9 million more in hotel revenue and 78,000 extra room bookings.

“Besides it being a larger state than New Hampshire, another possible reason for this swell in South Carolina could be the state’s book-ending primaries ... which may encourage folks to stick around longer,” U.S. Travel estimated.

The GOP primary is Saturday while the Democratic primary follows a week later.

One company that has seen some overflow from the primaries is Charlestowne Hotels, which manages the King Charles Inn, the Double Tree Historic District and several other downtown properties.

The Mount Pleasant-based firm has booked group business from the visiting news media workers and from campaign staffers, said Nadine Donnell, director of revenue management.

“We knew that there would be an impact,” she said. “Anytime you can get increased business from something that is contributing to the economy, of course it’s fun.”

Duane Parrish, director the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism and a U.S. Travel board member, said he wishes presidential primaries, held every four years, weren’t spaced so far apart.

“I’d love to see it every year,” Parrish said. “It’s all good, all the way around.”

Last weekend, marked the unofficial start of Charleston’s 2016 tourism season, with the annual Southeastern Wildlife Exposition.

Reach Allison Prang at 843-937-5705 or follow her on Twitter @AllisonPrang.