2011 busier, better for local economy than 2010

gmartin@islandpacket.comOctober 15, 2011 

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As temperatures fall, so, too, do hotel occupancy rates, marking the end of the 2011 tourist season in Beaufort County.

According to statistics provided by the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, the year brought substantial increases in visitors and dollars spent compared to 2010.

Hotel occupancy, one of the primary indicators of the health of the local tourism industry, is up 8.9 percent so far this year compared to same period last year. The average daily rate, which measures how much hotels are charging, is up 9 percent.

Particularly notable to Charlie Clark, chamber spokeswoman, is an 8-percent increase in revenue generated per room this year. That suggests people didn't just visit the island in greater numbers; they spent more money when they did.

"It's definitely trending in the right direction," Clark said. "This means that we're in high demand and that Americans want to travel."

The increase corresponds with a recent AAA report showing a 3-percent rise in the number of Americans driving to vacation destinations.

In July, Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner noted the increased traffic on U.S. 278 and said "it's a sign of prosperity."

Prices at local resort and rental agencies were much more stable this year than last, according to Bill Haley, vice president of marketing for Resort Rentals of Hilton Head Island.

"Last year, there was a lot of erosion with our prices," Haley said. "Because of the economy, people were taking advantage of last-minute discounts. This year, the integrity of our rates has been much better."

While the tourism business soared this year on Hilton Head, it was a bit more subdued around Beaufort.

According to statistics provided by the Beaufort Port Royal & Sea Islands Visitor and Convention Bureau, occupancy rates were down 0.7 percent from last year, although the average daily rate rose 3.3 percent.

Other indicators, however, suggest that tourism is on the rise in northern Beaufort County.

The Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce reports traffic at its visitor center is up 16 percent to date over last year, and its website traffic has reached an unprecedented rate of 18,000 visitors per month.

Clark expects tourism statistics will rise higher in 2012.

"Right now, we're cautiously optimistic," she said, but the statistics "definitely bode well for next year."

Follow reporter Grant Martin at twitter.com/LowCoBiz.

Related content:

Weekend traffic tie-ups on US 278 signal tourism rebound, officials say, July 9, 2011

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