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

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) – Over the past two years, we’ve heard a lot of stories about companies and businesses affected by the pandemic.

But for tourist destinations along the South Carolina coast, they’ve seen a different trend, particularly in recent months.

While business travel and corporate travel are still down, people who track tourism in Georgetown and Charleston counties say leisure travel is breaking records.

“Leisure travel is what’s really come back,” said College of Charleston Office of Tourism Analysis director Daniel Guttentag. “So what I mean by that is people taking vacations with their families. Business travel, on the other hand, came back a little slower, followed by large groups, large conference trips came back the slowest.

Up the road in Georgetown County, Chamber of Commerce director of tourism Mark Stevens said Georgetown has seen a steady increase in the number of visiting families over the past decade.

“What was great was that we didn’t falter during the pandemic, it just continued,” Stevens said. “So we’ve seen this direction every year.”

Mark Stevens says he is able to determine this by looking at lodging tax numbers. He says November 2021 is up 129% from November 2020 and 225% from November 2019.

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

According to the Charleston Visitors Bureau, hotel occupancy was 54.7% last month. This is compared to 37.4% in December 2020 and 57.2% in December 2019.

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

“The Peninsula and Mount Pleasant rebounded pretty quickly,” he said. “Unsurprisingly, North Charleston is rebounding a little slower and that comes down to business travel and conference travel being a little slower to come back.”

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

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