Charleston, Georgetown see pre-pandemic and higher travel numbers in 2021

Published: Jan. 28, 2022 at 6:32 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 28, 2022 at 11:53 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Over the last two years we’ve heard a lot of stories about businesses and companies taking hits because of the pandemic.

But for tourist destinations along the South Carolina coast, they saw a different trend especially over the last few months.

While business travel and large company travel is still down, people tracking tourism in Georgetown and Charleston counties say leisure travel is breaking records.

“Leisure vacation travel is what really has returned,” Director of the Office of Tourism Analysis at the College of Charleston Daniel Guttentag said. “So, what I mean by that are people who are taking vacations with their families. Business travel on the other hand has returned a little bit more slowly, and then big group, big conference travel has returned the slowest.”

Up the road in Georgetown County, the Chamber of Commerce Director of Tourism Mark Stevens says Georgetown has steadily seen an increase in families visiting over the last decade.

“What was great about it was that we didn’t falter during the pandemic, it kept going,” Stevens said. “So we have seen this direction each year.”

Mark Stevens says he’s able to determine this by looking at accommodations tax numbers. He says November 2021 was up 129% compared to November 2020, and up 225% compared to November of 2019.

“We know from tourism dollars, it saves local taxpayers as much as $1,500 a year on local and state taxes. And that they save that much money from their own pocketbook, because tourists come here,” Stevens said.

According to the Charleston Visitor’s Bureau, hotel occupancy was at 54.7% last month. That’s compared to 37.4% in December 2020, and 57.2% in December of 2019.

Guttentag says short term rentals and vacation rentals have done really well during the pandemic. He attributes that to the type of travel people are interested in.

“The Peninsula and Mount Pleasant have rebounded pretty quickly,” he said. “Not surprisingly, North Charleston is rebounding a little bit more slowly and that gets back to the fact that business travel and conference travel is a little bit slower to return.”

Stevens noted that we saw pre-pandemic tourism levels this past year, and that’s without some of the normal events like SEWE, Charleston Wine and Food festival, and the Cooper River Bridge Run, which all return in full swing this spring.

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