CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Experts say tourism hit a new high over the 2022 4th of July weekend across the Charleston area. They say the city and region remain on pace to break tourism numbers set back in 2019 before COVID-19.

Tourists and locals took to area beaches and downtown Charleston, taking in the area’s scenes over the 4th of July weekend. As crowds across the area fluctuated, experts say looks may have been deceiving. They’re expecting high numbers of tourists who celebrated the holiday across the area, from restaurants to hotels, beaches, and more once the official numbers come back.

“Saturday and Sunday, there were people here all day and all night,” says Roy Neal, Owner of El Jefe in Downtown Charleston.

Tourism is back in a big way all across the Lowcountry, both businesses and experts say it’s having a noticeable impact.

“We’ve seen an increase in customers and an increase in people walking the streets and an increase in our sales for sure,” says Neal.

Out of the pandemic, tourism experts predicted numbers across the board could reach new heights. Even with fluctuating crowd sizes over the holiday weekend, they still expect the final numbers to be some of the best.

“Once we get those numbers and we look back at this weekend, we’re going to see numbers that really resemble pre-pandemic,” says Daniel Guttentag, Director of Tourism Analysis at the College of Charleston. “In other words, what we were experiencing in 2019 if not even a little bit higher.”

And while hotel and restaurant numbers are unofficial at this point, Charleston International Airport officially had a record-breaking 4th of July weekend. More than 43,000 passengers flew out of the airport, breaking the previous record set back in 2019.

“The airport’s numbers are up and so are we,” says Neal.

“Having the airport busier than ever before so the fly market is definitely back,” says Guttentag.

Experts say it could only get busier with business and group travel beginning to make a comeback to Charleston. Neal says he’s hoping 2022 will be a year for the record books.

“Minnesota, Michigan, Connecticut, New York, Philadelphia, they’re all coming down I-95 or coming through the airport and they just love Charleston so I think the increase will be here for a while,” says Neal.

Those official tourism numbers are expected to be released later in the week. Experts predict they will fall in line with increased tourism numbers from the first six months of the year.