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South Carolina Tourism Economy Closes In On Full Recovery … But ‘Next Panic’ Looms

The latest numbers, analysis and commentary on the Palmetto State’s most important economic engine …

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South Carolina’s tourism economy is on the cusp of achieving a full recovery from the coronavirus panic that almost completely wiped out last year’s season – although the emergence of a new panic associated with a highly contagious variant of the virus threatens to undo the progress.

First, though … let’s look at where things currently stand.

According to the latest numbers from the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism (SCPRT), the Palmetto State’s tourism industry continued its remarkable rebound during the week ending July 24, 2021.

Hotel revenue per available room – or “RevPAR,” a key industry metric – clocked in at a robust $131.10 for the week. That marked a stratospheric 124 percent increase from the same week in 2020, but more importantly it was up 19.5 percent from equivalent week in 2019 – the last “normal” year for this multi-billion dollar industry.

Take a look …

(Click to view)

(Via: SCPRT)

So far in 2021, this metric stands at $76.98 – which is up 71 percent from the same point last year. And while it is down modestly (3.8 percent) from the same point in 2019, the bounce back is most impressive given the weak start to the current season.

As for hotel occupancy rates, those clocked in at 76.1 percent during the week ending July 24 – up 46.8 percent from the equivalent week in 2020 and 1.2 percent from the equivalent week two years ago. Year-to-date, hotel occupancy is up 34.3 percent from last year but down 8.3 percent from 2019.

Nationally, occupancy rates stood at 71.4 percent – down 7.9 percent when compared to 2019. For the South Atlantic region, the rate was 72.8 percent – down 4.3 percent from two years ago.

Here are those numbers …

(Click to view)

(Via: SCPRT)

Unfortunately, this was the extent of the data provided by SCPRT for this particular period … meaning we will have to keep an eye on future updates from the agency in order to assess what the recent uptick has meant from the standpoint of revenue to taxpayers.

Also, SCPRT is still refusing to release weekly aggregate revenue estimates for the industry (like it did a year ago) … which is profoundly disappointing. That data – provided by Tourism Economics – offered arguably the best baseline on the health of this sector of the economy.

SCPRT needs to either start providing this data again – or identify a suitable substitute for it which provides the public with a similarly reliable baseline.

My take on the latest numbers? Obviously, they are excellent. Furthermore, they provide additional proof that tourism does not require taxpayer subsidization in order to capitalize on prevailing macroeconomic trends.

In fact, as I noted last month, such appropriations are nothing more than additional pork barrel spending – which is “not going to move the needle one way or the other” when it comes to the performance of the overall economy.

Sadly, the notoriously corrupt subsidization of “destination marketing” has been ramped up again in South Carolina under the guise of sustaining an industry-wide recovery – with governor Henry McMaster and his tourism czar Duane Parrish leading the chorus of crony capitalists.

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Speaking of this “recovery,” though, it is an incredibly fragile thing. Elevated fear over the impact of the Covid-19 delta variant – the latest, most contagious strain of this virus – is imperiling the progress this industry has made in recent months.

As Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations across the nation rise as a result of the delta surge, the recent relaxation we have seen in social activity could soon give way to a fresh constriction.

So far, analysts see no immediate threat – with one tourism association along the state’s Grand Strand indicating that sixty-day bookings were currently pacing 16.5 points ahead of 2019 and 19.9 points ahead of 2020.

“We’ve been seeing strong destination demand for the summer and expect to see average occupancy rates continue to increase up to date of stay,” a Friday release from the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce (MBACC) noted. “The destination typically experiences peak demand in July with occupancy rates slowly decreasing into August and September as children head back to school. Even with this anticipated decline, demand is pacing ahead of 2019 and 2020.”

What happens if the delta panic intensifies, though?

We shall see … which reminds me, stay tuned to this news outlet for the latest information, analysis and commentary on this pivotal driver of the Palmetto State’s economy.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including that St. Louis Browns’ lid pictured above).

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