COLUMBIA, SC — If you plan to travel this Memorial Day holiday weekend, finding a place to leave Fido at this point is going to be harder than getting reservations at the beach.
Travel, wherever you go, is expected to be up this weekend, according to travel club AAA. Room occupancy on the Grand Strand already is higher than this time last year, according to experts there, and locally, there is no room at the kennel.
“We’re booked,” said Betsy Loonam, Grace Animal Hospital & Pet Lodge owner and practice manager in Lexington. “We’ve been booked for three months.”
A check at the Rosewood Drive Animal Clinic and several other Midlands facilities also yielded full kennels for the Memorial Day weekend, starting Saturday.
For experienced pet owners, booking early, particularly for the holidays, is a rule of thumb.
“That’s pretty normal, because that’s when people are traveling and that’s when they need to board their pets,” said Loonam, who offers lodging space for 12 cats and 75 dogs. “It’s pretty much always been that way.”
For the inexperienced owner, however, or late deciders, the scramble for summer holiday pet care can be hand to hand.
“If people aren’t used to it and they’ve all of a sudden got a new pet, they might not know (reservations) book that fast,” said Loonam.
And more pet owners likely are looking for lodging as the economy improves.
More travelers will take to the roads in South Carolina this Memorial Day holiday weekend than at any time in the past nine years, AAA Carolinas said. And Myrtle Beach and South Carolina’s Grand Strand is a top destination.
“Reservations seem to be up compared to last year at this time, with the exception of perhaps one week – the second week of June, which seems to be flat,” said Taylor Damonte, Brittain Center for Resort Tourism director at Coastal Carolina University, just outside Myrtle Beach.
“Other than that, occupancy for the next six weeks seems to be generally up compared to last year.”
Grand Strand occupancy rates the past 52 weeks have been growing by more than 5 percent over last year, said Damonte, a tourism professor who analyzes and forecasts occupancy and lodging prices along the Grand Strand. During the past two weeks, vacation rental occupancy was 30 percent higher than last year, and 71 percent of vacation rentals were booked, Damonte said.
For the two-week period leading into the Memorial Day weekend last year, only 54 percent of Grand Strand vacation rentals were booked, Damonte said, or 31 percent less than this year.
Meanwhile, advertised room prices on the Grand Strand were down about 3 percent from last year, Damonte said, though per room revenue was about 27 percent higher. Hotel occupancy for the next five to six weeks is expected to increase modestly, Damonte said.
The Myrtle Beach area, which includes Horry and Georgetown counties, accounts for about a third of all the tourism revenue generated in South Carolina each year, Damonte pointed out.
AAA forecasts a nearly 2 percent increase over holiday travel last Memorial Day weekend, with Charlotte, Gatlinburg, and Williamsburg, Va., joining Myrtle Beach on the list of top weekend holiday destinations, higher gas prices notwithstanding.
Gas prices in South Carolina are averaging $3.46 a gallon for unleaded regular right now, 22 cents a gallon above last year’s Memorial Day price.
“I would say the majority of the indicators are up and we’re going to have a really good Memorial Day weekend,” said Scott Smith, a USC tourism professor. A harsh winter has left travelers across the country ready to find warmer weather, he said. “There’s an inverse relationship — the worse the winter up north, the more we will see people traveling in the South,” Smith said, “and of course, South Carolina benefits from that.”
The other plus factor Smith said will play out in South Carolina over the Memorial Day holiday weekend is tied to the economy.
Travel expenditures are discretionary income, said Smith. What people spend on travel and vacation will depend on how they feel about the economy, he said.
“We’re continuing to get better than we were the last couple of years,” Smith said. “And South Carolina gets a lot of its tourism driving in, so with the three-day weekend, those tend to be drive travelers and South Carolina certainly benefits from that – the drive market.”
As for the family pet, if you haven’t made a reservation for the weekend, there are the neighbors – or maybe the back seat.