Despite Hurricane Matthew, Hilton Head Island saw an increase in tourism in 2016 and is expecting another for 2017, says the head of the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce.
The island’s hotel and resort occupancy rate increased by 6.1 percent in 2016 compared to 2015, according to Bill Miles, the chamber’s president and CEO. He said the rate increased by an annual 2.6 percent in 2015 and 1.9 percent in 2014.
“The hurricane came in on an October Saturday morning, and one week later, weddings were taking place at some of the major resorts,” Miles said. “We bounced back very quickly.”
Miles also said last year’s occupancy increase was higher than in other state tourism destinations, according to data from Tennessee-based Smith Travel Research. As examples, he said Charleston saw a 1.6 percent increase and Myrtle Beach a 3.3 percent jump in their occupancy rates in 2016 over 2015.
Hilton Head’s collective 2016 occupancy rate was 64 percent, said chamber spokeswoman Charlie Clark, noting that rate is comparable to other seasonal tourism destinations. Myrtle Beach in comparison had an occupancy rate of 57 percent last year, she said.
“Cities tend to have higher occupancy numbers,” Clark said.
Miles said besides the increase in occupancy rates, the average daily rental rate for hotel rooms and other short-term rentals on the island rose last year to $152, a 3.1 percent increase compared to 2015, though the overall percentage increase wasn’t as large as it was in 2015 and 2014.
In comparison, Charleston’s average daily rate was $136 and Myrtle Beach’s, $123, in 2016, Clark said.
Miles said he expects tourism to increase this year on the island, noting preliminary numbers for hotel and resort bookings show that the occupancy rate is up 6.4 percent for June.
Miles attributed the growing tourism numbers in part to accolades the island has received recently. This includes being picked the No. 1 island in the United States by Travel + Leisure readers, and a U.S. News and World report listing Hilton Head as a best family vacation.
“It is such a positive influence on the brand,” he said. “Travelers see those rankings, and it resonates.”