Despite setbacks, Charleston businesses ‘optimistic’ for tourist season

VIDEO: Despite setbacks, Charleston businesses ‘optimistic’ for tourist season

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - With billions of dollars in estimated tourism dollars lost last year due to the pandemic, Charleston business owners and hospitality leaders say they hope to see a long-awaited growth in tourist travel to the city.

College of Charleston professor and director of the office of tourism analysis Daniel Guttentag says his team is still working to find out the full extent of the pandemic’s impact in the Holy City.

“Hospitality is woven into the fabric I think of the DNA of Charleston,” Guttentag said. “There’s no question that in terms of the overall economic impact we’re going to be talking about billions of dollars of loss.”

It’s a loss seen in closures of more than 400 businesses. For those that have survived, it will take years to recover.

“We took a huge hit because of occupancy levels being so low as what they were,” hotel owner and leader with the Lowcountry Hospitality Association Dan Blumenstock said. “It’s going to be very incremental. It’s going to be a very slow process to come back.”

Bulldog Tours owner John Laverne said he’s seen an increase in visitors as the COVID-19 vaccine reaches more people.

“Charleston will continue to make sure that our guests are safe and with the vaccines rolling out and them doing their job,” Laverne said. “We’re optimistic that things are going to pick up around here.”

But pre-pandemic tourism levels are still not in his 2021 plan.

“We’re not even close to being back at pre-pandemic levels,” Laverne said. “That’s not going to be until I would think next year.”

Guttentag at the College of Charleston agrees, saying he expects domestic travel and day trippers to return, but hospitality will continue to ride the wave of COVID-19 cases in the area.

“We’re seeing some improvement in the hospitality and tourism numbers. We’re seeing that in the hotels, we’re seeing that in the restaurants, we’re seeing that in the airport,” Guttentag said. “We’re still not where we need to be in terms of the tourism industry because we’re still not where we need to be in terms of the pandemic.”

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