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SC tourism looks further back to gauge recovery from the COVID-19 era

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When South Carolina's tourism sector tries to measure key business metrics like hotel occupancy or visitor spending, it typically looks back a year to gauge growth.

But, now more than 12 months into the COVID-19 pandemic that rocked the visitor industry, the typical year-over-year measurements won't be sufficient. 

Destinations are hopeful they'll have a much better 2021 than 2020, but when the prior year's figure is something like 26 percent — the rock-bottom average for occupancy last April, when half of the state's hotels were closed — that's not going to cut it.

Starting with numbers from mid-March, which mark the approximate year mark of when the Palmetto State's visitor sector started to slow, industry metrics will be measured against both 2020 and 2019 numbers to show how business stacks up against both mid-pandemic and pre-pandemic figures. 

For example, for the week that ended March 13, hotel occupancy statewide was 57 percent. That's a slight decline, around 2 percent, from the equivalent week in 2020, when COVID-related impacts were just starting to be felt. But, compared to the 2019 average for that week, it was down almost 20 percent, according to a weekly report by the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

The next week was even more telling. The nearly 63 percent occupancy rate was the highest the state has seen since the start of the pandemic, according to tourism director Duane Parrish, and it marks a roughly 10 percent decline from 2019. That week in 2020 had logged a 28 percent drop from 2019, meaning the state is starting to close the gap.

The Office of Tourism Analysis at the College of Charleston will be taking a similar tack, said director Daniel Guttentag

"We've gotten to the point where we have to look back two years because we want to see both things," Guttentag said. "We want to look at the improvement over our COVID year but also how far away we are from being back to normal."

Guttentag's office is also working on its annual tourism report, which measures overall economic impact, visitation and other metrics for the prior year. After a string of consistently positive reports, the next one will be an anomaly. The last report was released during the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

It found that tourism had generated a record $9.7 billion economic impact in the Charleston area in 2019. 

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Give just how successful 2019 was, it will be a difficult to beat or even match, especially as it remains unclear when travel will no longer be weighed down by the coronavirus.

In its annual forecast, the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce recently predicted that a closely watched figure for the hotel industry known as revenue per available room would recover to about $68 this year compared to $54 for 2020 but well below the $116 for 2019.

It's got Moxy

A Charleston hotel project has secured a major loan for its construction in the city's upper peninsula district. 

Los Angeles-based real estate investment firm Canyon Partners said last week it has provided a $25.2 million loan to a joint venture between Opterra Capital and Charleston lodging developer The Montford Group for a seven-story property planned for upper Meeting Street. 

The Marriott-affiliated Moxy Hotel coming to 547 Meeting will have 131 guest rooms, a rooftop bar and restaurant, a first-floor café and large meeting space.

It's scheduled to open in late 2022, and construction is expected to commence "immediately," according to last week's announcement. 

The Moxy is one of several Charleston projects Montford has in the works. It also will be building a 191-room lodging where upper Meeting intersects with Morrison Drive in a deal with Hyatt-affiliated Thompson Hotels. Its design was billed as a first for the Holy City: a tall, triangular-shaped structure reminiscent of the landmark Flatiron Building on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. 

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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