MYRTLE BEACH — For every three additional rooms rented at hotels, condos and campsites across the Grand Strand, one additional employee could potentially be hired, according to research from the Coastal Carolina University's Clay Brittain Jr. Center for Resort Tourism.
The figures are calculated according to maximum employment numbers in Horry County as they relate to the percentage of available rooms rented, center director Taylor Damonte told the Myrtle Beach City Council on Tuesday.
"`Each additional three rooms we sell each day, we create another employee,'' he said.
According to numbers from the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce, employment in Horry County in 2012 was highest in July 2012 -- when occupancy was at 85.5 percent. There were about 19,000 fewer jobs when the county had its lowest number of people employed in January 2012 -- when occupancy was at 20.9 percent.
"Occupancy and labor seem to be correlated,'' Damonte said. ``It's not a one-to-one correlation. There are many, many factors that determine employment. But ultimately, indirectly, if you raise occupancy you raise employment.''
Damonte said finding ways to increase occupancy during the shoulder season could lead to more people working year-round -- and not only in the tourism industry. If more people are able to find jobs in the tourism industry year-round, it creates more jobs in other fields, he said.
"We're never going to have 85 percent occupancy rates year-round,'' Damonte said. ``But it's important to work on occupancy during the shoulder season.''
Councilman Philip Render pointed to the city's forthcoming indoor sports complex -- which will have a groundbreaking event at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the back of the Myrtle Beach Convention Center property -- as an opportunity to increase occupancy in the off-season.
The estimated $12.4 million, 100,000-square-foot sports center is expected to lure sports events and also will serve as an educational center where Horry-Georgetown Technical College students can learn about sports management.
Mayor John Rhodes has long championed the importance of sports tourism in Myrtle Beach, saying it's one of the few areas that have been recession proof.
"There are events we're missing out on because we don't have the availability of space,'' he said in July, adding that the facility would enable them to compete to bring those tournaments to town. He didn't name those events.
Damonte said attracting more amateur sporting events is among the ways the city can work to increase occupancy.
"Sports can be one argument to [increasing occupancy],'' Damonte said.
"It's not the only way, but building demand for amateur sports in fall and spring could help.''
Occupancy rates this year through mid-October across all room types along the Grand Strand are up about 2.3 percent from the same period last year -- and up 1.3 percent from 2006, which saw peak occupancy rates.
Occupancy this spring was down 2.5 percent from last year -- identified as being from Presidents Day to Memorial Day weekend -- largely due to soggy weather, Damonte said. But the weather has cooperated this fall, with a 6.9 percent increase in occupancy in September from last year.
As for the rest of the year, Damonte said occupancy is so weather-dependent that it's difficult to make a prediction.
"I still think we're going to come out at about where we are now, being about 2 percent up in occupancy and at least even in [average daily rates],'' he said.