Labor Day weekend should provide a strong close to a summer tourism season that has been one of the busiest in recent years in Beaufort County, hospitality-industry officials said Friday.
Hotels and vacation-rental agencies in the county expect bookings to rise this weekend compared to last year, as a projected 451,000 South Carolinians hit the road for the holiday, a 1.5 percent increase from 2013, according to AAA Carolinas."Labor Day is kind of a watershed, the end of summer vacations for families," said Bill Haley, vice president of marketing for Resort Rentals of Hilton Head Island.
Summer proved fruitful in northern Beaufort County, said Rob Wells, tourism division executive of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Occupancy rates this summer jumped more than 7 percent from last year, he said. Fripp and Harbor islands had occupancy rates above 80 percent, also higher than in previous years.
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"As those islands go, our summer leisure travel goes, because that's where the beach is," Wells said.
Downtown Beaufort also saw increases.
Occupancy rates this summer climbed more than 10 percent from last year, said Rhett House Inn manager Josh Grimaldi.
The Rhett House, a bed and breakfast, is booked for Labor Day weekend. So is Beaufort's City Loft Hotel, according to front desk clerk Manny Nieves.
With an increase in vacationer demand, Wells said, Beaufort's tourism industry benefited from not having to offer discounts to fill rooms -- a strategy that has limited revenue in recent years. Revenue per available room climbed 10 percent, he said.
"In past years, hotels felt like they had to slash rates tremendously," Wells said. "Not this year, and it's helped across the board."
Hotels have charged more per room this summer in southern Beaufort County. Average revenue per available room, a key metric for measuring hotel profits, jumped 12.2 percent from April through July compared to the same time period in 2013, according to Charlie Clark, vice president of communication for the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce.
Jay Wiendl, general manager of Sonesta Resort Hilton Head Island, said room rates are higher than Labor Day weekend last year.
He says the success will spill into fall. "While this weekend closes the 'official season,' we don't anticipate slowing down."
The National Weather Service predicts mostly sunny skies through the holiday weekend, with high temperatures in the upper 80s and a slight chance of rain.
Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.