Restaurants and hotels in Beaufort are gearing up for their traditional tourism uptick as the weather cools and snowbirds migrate south.
Plums Restaurant and Saltus River Grill posted strong numbers for June and July and expect the same for August, said Chip Dinkins, director of operations for the company that owns the restaurants.
"It's been a good summer for us," Dinkins said. "We saw a dip in the last two weeks -- our traditional dip -- with people going back to school and families traveling less. Labor Day will be a nice shot in the arm as we gear up for October, which heralds the return of our tourist season."
The Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce says a new marketing campaign tied to the city's tricentennial is working.
"Numbers have been going gangbusters," said Bob Moquin, executive director of the chamber's tourism division.
Since June 20, the chamber has received more than 22,000 unique visits to a dedicated website promoting the 300th anniversary, and 11,459 signed up for a two-night giveaway sweepstakes sponsored by the Beaufort, Port Royal & the Sea Islands Visitor & Convention Bureau.
"To us that indicates people are seriously looking at coming here," Moquin said.
Visitor numbers, spending rise
Hotels, resorts, and home and villa rental companies in Beaufort County did slightly more business this summer than in 2010, even with a boost last year from the Gulf oil spill that diverted some travelers to the Lowcountry.
Overall, tourism for the year was up more than 1 percent over last year as of July 31, according V-Trip, which tracks hotel and rental occupancy. Year to date through July, occupancy was about the same as last year for the Beaufort area, according to Smith Travel Research Inc.
Visitors have also been willing to pay more for a room. The average daily room rate increased 5.4 percent compared to last year for the Hilton Head-Bluffton area and 9.6 percent for the Beaufort area, according to area travel numbers.
"It's a telling indicator on the overall health of our tourism industry," said Charlie Clark, Hilton Head chamber vice president of communications.
Beaufort-area revenue rose about $300,000 year-to-date through this July, according to Smith Travel Research.
"The visitor count is returning to pre-recession levels, and there's been less of a discount that was needed to get people to book," said Tom Ridgway, owner of Hilton Head Rentals & Golf. "This week, we're close to 95 percent occupancy for our 250 homes and villas, and advanced reservations are up."
Ridgway said visitors have grown tired of "staycations" and are now venturing farther from home.
"They feel a little more confident in their spending because they've survived layoffs and downsizings," he said. "At the beginning of the summer, consumer confidence was rising. But with the violent swings in the stock market and global economy, we hope we don't see a double-dip recession. If we can muddle through this, we can anticipate a better (tourism) environment ... and see the trend continue for 2012."
Follow staff writer Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.