Tourists coming to Myrtle Beach on a budget

Tourists are still coming to Myrtle Beach, but they're not spending as much as they used to.

MYRTLE BEACH — Tourists have continued to come to South Carolina’s Grand Strand, but they’re not spending as much money there as they used to.

The Grand Strand — anchored by Myrtle Beach, the heart of South Carolina’s $15 billion tourism industry — is the 60 miles of beaches from Georgetown to the North Carolina state line. About the same number of people came this summer as last year, with lodging in the area’s hotels averaging nearly 80 percent, according to the Coastal Carolina University’s Center for Resort Tourism.

But visitors to the popular beach destination sought out deals this summer and took advantage of free attractions like simply spending time on the beach, The Sun News of Myrtle Beach reported Monday. And more dollars from the vacation budget were eaten up by lodging costs, which more than $5 a night higher on average than last summer, the tourism center said.

For families on a budget, that meant for less money to spend on area attractions. But some, like Ripley’s Aquarium, actually had more visitors and revenue than last summer, thanks in part to a new dinosaur exhibit and partnerships with lodging providers, according to general manager Craig Atkins.

“People this year were spending more on their hotel,” Atkins said, adding that many vacationers hit the beach more because it’s free. “The beach this year was a big competitor for all of us.

Many visitors relied on deals to get more bang for their buck.

“We’ve been picking up coupon books,” said Kristy Cairns of Buffalo, N.Y., who was checking out Ripley’s Aquarium last week. “That helps a little bit. ... With three kids, it gets a little pricey.”

With four children under age 10, New Jersey mom Erin Dopp said she relied on coupons and smart decisions — like packing a lunch and skipping the gift shop on the way out of an attraction.

“You just have to look out for things,” she said. “We brought peanut butter and jelly and made sandwiches on the way.”