Today marks the end of the busiest month of the year in southern Beaufort County -- a month that some in Hilton Head Island's hospitality industry are calling among the most profitable in recent history.
"We've had probably the best July ever," said Tom Ridgway, owner of Hilton Head Rentals and Golf. "We've been at 98, 99 percent occupancy all month, and it doesn't get much better than that."
Ridgway added that while it's not unusual for the occupancy rates of his business' rental homes and villas to be that high in July, this year is different because he is offering lower discounts than at any point since the economic downturn began.
"Last July, our average discount was about 15 percent. This year, we're at 10 percent, maybe a little less, and that's only because a few last-minute deals drove that average up," he said. He added that his guests paid 9 percent more for lodging than they did last July.
Bill Haley, vice president of marketing for Resort Rentals of Hilton Head, said the occupancy rate was up 12 to 14 percent over July 2011.
He credited lower gas prices and an improving economy for the tourism surge.
Rental businesses weren't the only beneficiaries.
"We're up 10 percent in our occupancy rate and revenue over what we did last July," said Skip James, director of sales and marketing at the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort and Spa. "We're having just a smoking month."
Unusually cooperative weather has played a key role in elevating his hotel's July occupancy percentage to the mid-90s, James said.
"We've had rain, but it's happened on the right days," he said, explaining that poor weather on a Thursday can deter potential weekend visitors.
"This is good news for the (supermarkets), the restaurants, a lot of the businesses around here," he said. "Rising tides raise all boats."
Jeff Martin, manager of Redfish restaurant on Hilton Head, concurred.
"I've been here for 12 years, and 2006 has been our best July so far, but this year we're on pace to beat that one," he said. "It's been a good year, but July in particular has been great."
The month has not been as lucrative, however, for similar businesses north of the Broad River.
Greta Maddox, owner of Seaside Getaways on Lady's Island, said July revenue was down about 8 percent from last year.
"I was offering steeper discounts, trying to fill the slots last year," she said, explaining that the owners of her rental homes have grown less willing to repeat those discounts. "Some of them would rather let their homes go vacant this summer than be discounted like that again."
Philip Carroway of the Holiday Inn in Beaufort said his business was down from last year.
"We were at 65 percent occupancy this July, down from 75 percent last year," he said, adding that rate also exceeded 70 percent in May and June.
He said July is generally one of the slower months for hotels in northern Beaufort County, calling spring and fall his peak seasons.
"We're down from last year a little bit," he said, "but this has still been a good July."