Rarely do I find myself in the position of praising a state agency which I don’t believe should even exist … but credit is due this week to the South Carolina Department of Parks Recreation and Tourism (SCPRT).
What did the agency do?
Every week, this glorified marketing bureaucracy publishes data related to the state of the tourism industry in the Palmetto State – which as regular readers of this news outlet were aware was in a bit of a rut prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
Not surprisingly, Covid-19 had a disastrous impact on tourism in South Carolina – depriving the state of more than $5.7 billion in lost revenue a year ago. And sadly, the malaise has lingered into this year.
As my news outlet has tracked the weekly data in 2021, it has argued SCPRT ought to amend its traditional release and presentation model – which has heretofore compared data from the current year to data from the previous one. Specifically, I called on SCPRT to publish the prior two years of comparison data. This way, readers would be able to follow not only the rebound of the industry (hopefully) but also get a sense of how far things are from where they were before the pandemic hit.
Last month, an editorial on this outlet declared that “2021 numbers will only be useful for comparison purposes through the first week of March – which is when we must revert to 2019 data if we hope to get a true sense of (the) departure from normal.”
That’s because mid-March of last year is when the first wave of the pandemic began shutting down broad swaths of the American economy – causing the state’s tourism economy to collapse.
To its credit, SCPRT listened … and is providing precisely the data comparison this news outlet recommended.
Last week, SCPRT released an updated tourism dashboard which included comparison data from both 2019 and 2020.
“Starting this week, we’ll be adjusting the way we report indicators in the South Carolina tourism today weekly dashboard to include a three-year comparison of metrics,” SCPRT director Duane Parrish explained in an email message.
“Since tourism business in most of 2020 was very negatively impacted by the pandemic, comparisons between 2021 and 2019 are most relevant to gauge our return to normalcy,” Parrish continued. “Comparison between 2021 and 2020, meanwhile, will show the extent of our recovery from the pandemic.”
So … what do the numbers look like?
For the week ending March 6, 2021, hotel revenue per available room – or “RevPAR” – clocked in at $45.20, which was down 31.2 percent from the equivalent week in 2020 and down 36.1 percent from the equivalent week in 2019. Meanwhile, the metric was down 32.4 percent from the same period in 2020 and 34.8 percent from the same period in 2019.
Take a look …
(Click to view)
In the coming weeks and months, the 2021 RevPAR data should begin eclipsing the numbers from 2020 – perhaps dramatically so.
At least that is the hope …
When it comes to hotel occupancy rates in South Carolina, that metric stood at 50.7 percent for the week ending March 6 – down 18 percent from the equivalent week last year and down 22.8 percent from the equivalent week in 2019.
Year-to-date, occupancy rates were down 20.2 percent from the same point in 2020 and down 23.5 percent below the same period in 2019.
Here are those numbers …
(Click to view)
While I credit SCPRT for providing some much needed context for these key tourism metrics, its latest data release was not everything it could have been.
For example, SCPRT continues to omit weekly, industry-wide revenue estimates from Tourism Economics – meaning readers are not getting a complete picture of the monetary impact of short-term upswings or downturns. Hopefully, the agency will fill this data gap in future releases – as this is among the more critical top line figures to follow.
More importantly, just because SCPRT is offering comparison data which allows reporters to better assess the relative health of this industry does not mean the agency is making smart decisions with taxpayer money. In fact, SCPRT – at the instruction of status quo governor Henry McMaster – continues to spend tens of millions of dollars annually on “destination marketing” scams that fail to move the needle in one direction or the other.
The agency has also failed to offer anything resembling a vision for diversifying the state’s tourism economy … although that is a failure it shares with corrupt local leaders, who have done their best to tax South Carolina out of competitiveness.
Can the state turn things around in spite of these failings?
“South Carolina’s 187-mile coastline – anchored by picturesque Hilton Head, historic Charleston and the inimitable Grand Strand – is a huge competitive asset,” I wrote last fall. “It offers the Palmetto State a tremendous opportunity to emerge from the coronavirus recession on more solid economic footing than many other states.”
South Carolina leaders simply need to get out of the way and allow this industry to grow and diversify on its own …
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading.
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