South Carolina’s tourism sector has so far amassed a $4 billion drop in visitor-related revenue compared to last year.
Every week, the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism has been logging several key measurements to calculate the size of the pandemic’s blow to the hospitality industry.
Those include hotel occupancy, the total number of nights sold at hotels — down 30 percent this year — and the revenue generated per room, which is down 44 percent. The agency has also been tracking the drop in overall visitor spending compared to 2019 figures.
The $4 billion decline measured from the first week of February to Aug. 8 is almost equivalent to cutting that same period of revenue from last year in half. It represents a 47 percent year-to-year reduction and also factors out to about one-sixth of the sector’s $24 billion economic impact.
State tourism director Duane Parrish said Friday that, while it’s almost impossible to predict how the rest of the year will play out, he still thinks it’s likely visitor spending will be halved, or close to it, in 2020.
Weekly declines reached their worst point in mid-April when tourism spending was down 88 percent. Revenues started improving for several weeks after that. They took their biggest leap around Memorial Day.
Last week, spending was down 38 percent from last year, slightly better than the several weeks in July when South Carolina’s case numbers were spiking but worse than the last week of June, when the industry was still hopeful about a late summer recovery.
“Are we going to see a slow rise every week from here on out? It’s just not likely,” Parrish said.
The Palmetto State’s coronavirus case numbers, while not rising at a fast clip like they were a month ago, are still higher than in many other parts of the U.S., and states like New York and Pennsylvania are still asking travelers coming from South Carolina to quarantine for 14 days.
Hurricanes and severe flooding, which have caused multi-million-dollar losses for the visitor sector for the last five years, also pose a threat.
Coastal areas of the state may have taken a slight hit from Hurricane Isaias early last week when the storm brushed past Charleston and made a mess along the Grand Strand.
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Hotel occupancy had been inching up for several weeks after taking a dip in early July, but from Aug. 3-8, that figure went back to 50 percent from 53 percent the week before. Lodging numbers were lowest on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday — the days before, during and after the storm, Parrish said.
That weekly average put the state neck-and-neck with U.S. hotel occupancy after outpacing national figures for the last few months.
The state has a near-normal number for at least one tourism figure: hotels in the state that are closed. During the peak of shutdowns in April, half the state’s lodging inventory was offline, or about 570 properties.
Now that number is hovering around 20, give or take a couple, Parrish said, and the majority of those lodgings are closed for non-virus-related reasons, like renovations.
The only major property to have reopened and then closed again during the pandemic, Wild Dunes Resort on Isle of Palms, started reopening this week after shutting down almost all operations for a month.
Employees at the seaside getaway had tested positive for coronavirus, and one staff member had recently died when Wild Dunes said July 14 it was temporarily closing again. The resort would not say if that individual had contracted COVID-19.
Coronavirus testing is now being required for resort staff, in addition to temperature screenings and “pre-shift wellness interviews.”
The resort’s two golf courses reopened Wednesday, and new rentals at vacation homes and condominiums started being accepted Friday.
The Boardwalk Inn remains closed, and just one of the half dozen dining options at Wild Dunes is serving.