by Taylor Damonte, Ph.D., director of the Clay Brittain Jr. Center for Resort Tourism, and Robert Salvino, director of the Grant Center for Real Estate and Economic Development, E. Craig Wall Sr. College of Business Administration, Coastal Carolina University
It was pointed out by researchers on this page last year, though it now seems like an understatement to say, that fall can be a tricky season for lodging businesses along the Grand Strand. During years 2013 and 2014 no named stormed passed near the Carolinas, but during 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, the area experienced major disruptions stemming from Hurricanes Joaquin, Matthew, Irma, and Florence respectively. The table below reflects the relative percentage of units occupied/reserved during the six weeks beginning with the Sunday before Labor Day for two combined segments of the lodging industry in the coastal sections of Horry and Georgetown Counties, which is known as South Carolina’s Grand Strand.
The average occupancy reported below for the nightly-rented hotel, condo-hotel and campsite (HC-HC) segment is based on the Centers’ voluntary samples of properties (monthly sample size is shown in the CVB Insider section). Center researchers also observe a scientifically random sample of 338 reservations websites for weekly-rented vacation properties (VRPs) located between Little River and Georgetown, South Carolina, and listed on the internet each week.
Last year the Center pointed out that storm and/or flooding threats during 2015, 2016 and 2017 occurred during weekend periods, which are particularly important to the performance of the nightly-rented HC-HCs. During 2018, the mandatory evacuation order for evacuation zones A, B and C along the coast began on Tuesday, Sept. 11, and was not lifted until Sunday, Sept. 16.
Readers will want to note that the reservations percentages shown in the table below for VRPs reflect the weekly percentage assuming zero units were occupied during the days in which there was an evacuation order in place, but that normal occupancy was occurring prior to and after the evacuation based on the level of reservations reflected on the internet. In some cases that may be a valid assumption; in others, not.
The HC-HC results shown in the table below only reflect the performance of properties that voluntarily report data to the Center. A number of properties that under normal circumstances report their performance to the Center were unable to open completely during the days and weeks after the evacuation order was lifted, meaning that their occupancy would have been quite low or nil.
For both of the reasons above readers should note that Center researchers are not suggesting that the results below should be interpreted as indicative of average business performance in the region. Instead, these results are offered as a preliminary best case estimate of lodging volume for specific samples of properties along the Grand Strand during early fall 2018, compared with similar periods of previous years.
This year the Center has fielded frequent request for information on the impact of Hurricane Florence on the tourism industry. At the time of this writing, the Center’s data does not support the supposition that Hurricane Florence has yet ceased impacting the area’s lodging industry. In any case, from a scientific perspective it is never possible to prove that the demand for transient guest rooms is a function of only one factor. For example, the relative strength of tourism demand can be impacted by the level of advertising by the destination and by its competitors, and by changes in the relative attractiveness of each. It can also be impacted by the level of investment in tourism attractions and tourism-related infrastructure. Economists often like to assume that all things are equal, but they rarely are.
If Center researchers do assume all factors such as the ones mentioned herein have been equal each year between of the Grand Strand and it competing destinations, the fact that the average percentage or rooms occupied/reserved during and after named-stormed events is lower than when there is no named storm, does suggest that average occupancy during the fall tourist season along the Grand Strand suffers during, and in the aftermath of, named storms.
Nevertheless, until average weekly occupancy in the area returns to the level of the equivalent weeks of 2014, during which no named storm was experienced, Center researchers will have little evidence that Hurricane Florence has ceased impacting the Grand Strand. Consequently, researchers are not able to estimate the total impact of Hurricane Florence on area tourism until after that time.
The Center’s monthly results can be found in the CVB Insider section of the Grand Strander. It’s most recent weekly CCU Lodging Update is always available, and the most recent two years of weekly reports are archived at coastal.edu/business/resort. If you represent a hotel or condo-hotel management company and would like to become a participant in the Brittain Center’s or the Grant Center’s research and receive segment-level results and six-week occupancy forecasts, please contact Taylor Damonte, firstname.lastname@example.org at Coastal Carolina University.