Tourism revenue stabilizing after ‘record-breaking’ post-pandemic years

Published: Sep. 8, 2023 at 3:50 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 8, 2023 at 6:46 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Tourism in the Tri-County area is beginning to stabilize after two “record-breaking” years coming out of the pandemic.

The executive vice president of Explore Charleston, Doug Warner, said COVID-19 did a number on the hospitality industry, but Charleston saw a quicker rebound than most communities.

“Coming out of the pandemic, Charleston was a real hotspot for visitation because we’re outdoor accessible year-round,” Warner said.

He said this year, the tourism industry is on track to contribute around $12 billion to the economy, right on track with numbers from 2022. Of the roughly 20,000 hotel rooms Explore Charleston serves, hotels were running at 75% to 80% occupancy over the summer, similar to the rates from 2022.

Since COVID-19, the economic impact of tourism has increased by $2 billion by only growing the visitation number in our community by about 200,000 people, he said.

“We think that is a tremendous success because it’s increasing economic impact without increasing the number of people, and that’s largely the result of being very targeted in our marketing to attract people that will spend more money and stay longer,” Warner said.

Mark Witte, an economics professor at the College of Charleston, echoed Warner’s point. He said even though the prices of hotel rooms are going up this year, the number of visitors we’ve seen isn’t changing dramatically, meaning it’s not surprising we’re only seeing a small increase in revenue compared to the big jumps we saw post-pandemic.

“The profile of the visitor who’s coming to Charleston is changing. The profile is tending to be more affluent than it was in 2021 and 2022 and less price conscious,” Warner said. “You have visitors who, even though there has been inflation, they’re not afraid of spending $40 a plate at a restaurant.”

In summary, the Tri-County area had a big post-pandemic boom. Although this year’s growth has been more moderate, it is more efficient because we are getting more revenue per visitor.