Low gas prices fueling Memorial Day travel along SC coast

05/22/2013 11:37 PM

12/16/2013 8:57 AM

Prepare for busy roads and beaches this weekend along the Grand Strand as bikers, those celebrating Memorial Day and others just looking to get away flock to the area for the long holiday weekend.

Lodging occupancy along the Grand Strand for the three-day weekend is expected to hit between 81 percent and 83 percent, about even with the Memorial Day holiday last year, making it one of the busiest weekends so far this year, said Taylor Damonte of Coastal Carolina University's Clay Brittain Jr. Center for Resort Tourism, which tracks the local tourism industry.

"We'll have a strong weekend," he said.

Several major events are scheduled along the Grand Strand this weekend, including the Atlantic Beach Bikefest and Memorial Day parades and celebrations. And the weather forecast for the weekend is nearly perfect, with sunny skies, highs in the upper 70s and only a slight chance of a shower Saturday and Monday, according to The Weather Channel.

"The Memorial Day weekend is the kickoff of the summer season. I would look for a good crowd," Myrtle Beach spokesman Mark Kruea said. "I think it is going to be a busy, fun weekend."

More Carolinians are expected to hit the road for the Memorial Day weekend than last year, fueled in part by lower gas prices than this time a year ago, according to AAA Carolinas, which released its holiday travel forecast Wednesday.

About 443,550 South Carolinians and 897,300 North Carolinians will hit the road starting Thursday, with the busiest drive times during the holiday weekend expected to be Friday afternoon and evening and Monday as travelers head back home. About 1.5 percent more Carolinas residents are expected to drive for the holiday than a year ago.

Travelers will get a break at the gas pumps. South Carolina has the lowest average gas price in the nation at $3.24 a gallon, and that's about 38 cents a gallon cheaper than the recent peak three months ago. In Myrtle Beach, the average price is $3.22 a gallon, down 10 cents a gallon from this time a year ago.

"Lower gas prices and a slowly improving economy means more people will travel this holiday weekend to spend time with family and friends," David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas, said in a news release.

"This weekend's favorable weather forecast also will encourage many last-minute travelers to get away for Memorial Day."

Grand Strand businesses are ready for the Memorial Day and summer crowds after a disappointing spring dampened by the cool, rainy weather. Between March 31 and May 11, lodging occupancy at hotel, condotels and campsites was about 51 percent, down 4.3 occupancy points or 7.7 percent from the same period last year, according to CCU. The average daily rate during that period also was down about 3.1 percent. "

It looks like summer bookings are coming back to the level they were last year, which is good to see," Damonte said.

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