CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - New numbers show how much the COVID-19 pandemic affected Charleston’s tourism industry.
The Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau says hotel occupancy was down 39 percent in 2020 compared to 2019. Last month, only about 37 percent of Charleston County hotel rooms were in use.
Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Communications Director Chris Campbell says the hotel occupancy in the month of December 2020 was 37.4%. In December 2019, the average hotel occupancy for the county was 57.6%.
Dan Blumenstock, the director of hotels at Lowcountry Hotels, says some locations in the area have been able to house some essential workers like travel nurses who have come in. Blumenstock, also a member of the Charleston Visitors Bureau Board, says they understand the timing isn’t right for a lot of tourism just yet.
However, he says they are prepared for necessary travelers, and are continuing all safety protocols.
“We’ve even got more and more from traveling nurses, doctors and things, that are even doing vaccinations,” Blumenstock said. “So that’s an exciting thing to be able to house them while they’re helping support our community.”
He says at the DoubleTree Hotel at the Convention Center in North Charleston, they are continuing all safety protocols inside hotels like mask requirements when not in your room and limiting elevator capacity to a maximum of two people, or one family.
He says while January is usually a slower month for tourism here anyway, tons of jobs depend on tourism.
“So whether it’s our hotels, our restaurants, shopping, the tour industry, all of those things are impacted,” he said. “But we, the people who live here, our community members, our citizens, we’re the ones that are running these businesses, we’re the ones that are on the frontlines really working in these businesses. So, in order for our livelihood to remain, we need to have the visitors coming into Charleston.”
Blumenstock says usually the Charleston Visitor’s Bureau refers to the Southeastern Wildlife festival as the kick-off of tourism season here. But SEWE organizers announced earlier this month they were canceling the 2021 event.
Blumenstock says with that cancellation, it is difficult to know when tourism could pick up.
However, he added that the hotel industry is ready to bring back more staff members, which have been scaled back, once tourism picks up.
He says seeing vaccination sites set up around the Convention Center is a promising sign and gives them hope that they will be back to normalcy soon.