The scene is set for a successful Labor Day weekend along the Grand Strand as seating capacity at Myrtle Beach International Airport is nearly 30 percent more than last year.
Now, area analysts say, it’s the waiting game on whether bad weather will play a part in last-minute plans to visit the beach for a final hurrah of the summer.
Airlines scheduled 27,529 seats arriving into MYR, or 28 percent above 2016, according to airport figures. Last year, airlines at MYR were at an average of 82-percent capacity for September, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Kirk Lovell, director of Air Service and Business Development, said he thinks the capacity rate will be higher than 82 percent.
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“As the Labor Day holiday is often associated with the last summer weekend, I would anticipate load factors to be greater than the average,” Lovell said. “If I was to guess, I would estimate that the average load factor for Labor Day... runs anywhere from 85 percent to 90 percent.”
This year’s capacity is also a whopping 70 percent above 2012, Lovell said.
The increase is a result of Spirit, Allegiant, American Airlines and more adding more flights. But, as Brad Dean, president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce points out, it’s not quite time to schedule a trip to the bank.
“If the weather cooperates, we anticipate a busy Labor Day Weekend,” Dean said. “... The holiday weekend will remain a busy time, boosted by local events, the Darlington NASCAR race and one last summer getaway opportunity for many families.”
In North Myrtle Beach, businesses reported “Labor Day bookings were strong in July,” said George DuRant, vice president of Tourism Development for the North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce. DuRant said the North Myrtle Beach chamber projects a double-digit increase in revenue from last year based on bookings.
DuRant said partial credit can be given to the electrical blackout that was experienced in July along the Outer Banks in North Carolina.
“A noticeable uptick in vacationers who came to North Myrtle Beach instead of the electrically blacked out Outer Banks seems to have resulted in a small increase in new visitors who normally would have chosen that North Carolina destination,” DuRant said. “This is supported not only by the actual business gained during the power outage, but in calls from those who rearranged their vacation schedule and are now considering, according to partners, North Myrtle Beach and Brunswick County, North Carolina, beaches as options.”
DuRant said some businesses are currently reporting Labor Day is running about the same as most years, but there’s a gradual increase as the holiday gets closer.
Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach remain major drive-to destinations, and in recent years, visitors have made last-minute vacation plans to come to the beach, tourism officials familiar with traveling trends have said.
In fact, this year, Myrtle Beach ranks third in Labor Day destinations that South Carolinians plan to travel to, behind Isle of Palms, S.C., and Nashville, Tenn., according to TurnKey Vacation Rentals, a property management services company.
The Weather Channel’s weather.com provides a 10-day forecast, which shows temperatures in the mid-80s in Myrtle Beach through the Labor Day weekend, and a 20-percent chance of precipitation, which is standard for this area.
Officials with the Brittain Center for Resort Tourism at Coastal Carolina University said occupancy rates can reach as high as 90 percent over Labor Day, but last year’s anticipated visitors hovered in the 60s because of a looming tropical storm.
Though Labor Day symbolizes school children back in class and the summer reaching its end, it’s no longer the end of the road for tourism. Massive efforts in the last decade for the area to host sports tournaments in the shoulder seasons, or months before and after the hot summer months, has opened the doors for business owners and their employees to continue making money.
Several years ago the Myrtle Beach chamber began a dedicated fall campaign intended to attract more regional visitors called “60 More Days of Summer.”
Dean, chamber president, called the campaign “very successful” and it is now promoted in dozens of markets.
But, again, it all boils down to the weather.
“As long as we have good fall weather, we have lots to offer travelers looking for an affordable, fun fall getaway,” Dean said.