Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Myrtle Beach area hotels anticipate late Easter will lure tourists

A late Easter is on track to deliver tourists to the Grand Strand in greater numbers than previous years, provided the weather cooperates, tourism officials say.

"Starting the Saturday before Easter, our vacation rentals start filling up," said Taylor Damonte, director of the Clay Brittain Jr. Center for Resort Tourism at Coastal Carolina University. "I'm expecting us to be virtually full for the weekend of Easter ... for hotel-condohotels."

Vacation rentals - beach houses and condos rented on a weekly basis - are already 87 percent booked for the week leading up to Easter, according to Damonte's sampling of properties. That's 21 percentage points higher than the same time last year, and occupancy will gain further with last-minute bookings leading up to the holiday, Damonte said.

Hotels and condohotels will likely be 90 percent to 98 percent full, up from 70 percent last Easter weekend, according to Damonte's survey data.

The weeks aren't completely comparable because Easter fell almost three weeks earlier last year, he said. Occupancy for the start of this month was not as strong as a result, but April occupancy overall is expected to be greater than the same month last year, Damonte said.

The week after Easter is not performing as well, Damonte said, declining to give exact numbers.
Bookings with vacation rental company Dunes Realty reflect that trend with a strong week leading up to Easter followed by a week of weaker bookings, General Manager Ryan Swaim said.

Grade school and high school schedules affected by the late Easter probably account for the disparity, Swaim said. Easter falls on April 24, one day before the latest possible day that Easter can fall, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory.

"Most schools were getting out the week before because if you got out of the week after you'd be so close to the end of year," Swaim said.

New York public schools, for example, let out for spring break the week before Easter, he said.
Hotels will be able to raise room rates as a result of the late Easter, said John Daniels, general manager of The Breakers Resort.

"We all get a premium rate over holidays but when a holiday is late in April, when you're guaranteed good weather, [it] allows a higher nightly rate," Daniels said.

Swaim said the week before Easter he was able to raise rates 2 percent to 3 percent, but he also has had to discount other weeks in the spring.

Daniels said he expects The Breakers' occupancy to be up about 8 percent surrounding Easter compared to the same weeks last year.

Family Kingdom Amusement Park expects strong sales around Easter, although it will be tough to top last year, general manager Donnie Sipes said. The park opens on weekends for most of the spring, but operates for a full week before and after Easter.

"Typically, it's better later in the season because of the weather, but last year was the best season we ever had because weather was too cool for the beach," he said.

The park will also run specials on admissions around Easter to attract holiday vacationers, Sipes said.

Spring occupancy is expected to be consistently up about 20 percent for Oceana Resorts, with the exception of an unpredictable Easter, General Manager Frans Mustert said. The management company's nine hotels in Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach are reporting mixed bookings, with some up and some down, Mustert said. For example, at Harbourgate Marina Club, 2100 Sea Mountain Highway, bookings are up 10 percent, but the Patricia Grand hotel's occupancy is down 15 percent.

"You're probably going to see the usual late April crowd show up versus the Easter crowd," Mustert said. "Easter is not going to have a big impact on our crowd because for us the last 15 days of April were good already."
Good or bad weather for Easter can still affect last-minute bookings and swing occupancies as much as 10 percent, Damonte said. A late Easter reduces the chance of bad weather, he said.

Spring will contribute to expected occupancy growth of 7 percent for 2011, Damonte said. Although Damonte expects a 2 percent to 3 percent rise in room rates for the year, that's far less predictable and industry watchers will have to wait and see what the season brings, he said.

It's hard to pinpoint exactly what is leading to a growth this spring season, he said.

"I've been saying for some time that that's what happens when Easter comes later, but how much of that is weather driven, how much of it is economy driven, how much of it is calendar driven, how much of that is advertising driven - it's all of the above," Damonte said.

Read more: http://www.thesunnews.com/2011/04/10/2095510/hotels-anticipate-late-easter.html#storylink=misearch#ixzz1JKu9zSG8

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