Lowcountry travel experts say tourism, holiday travel recovered in a big way during 2021


CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) -Travel experts say holiday travel and tourism across the Lowcountry is recovering in a big way after a year of shutdowns due to COVID-19. They say, the success of 2021 could mean even more good things are to come going forward in 2022.

Officials and some Charleston business owners say not only did the tourism industry recover but say it bounced back in a big way and in some cases even proved record setting. Charleston International alone saw a 43% increase in passenger numbers over the Christmas holiday this year compared to 2020.

“Recovery was fantastic,” says Brian Solari, Owner of Carmella’s Dessert Café and Bar. “We had a wonderful year, actually our best year ever.”

Lowcountry travel experts say the recovery was noticeable across the board over the course of the year.

“We recovered at a much quicker pace than did the rest of the country,” says Doug Warner, Vice President of Media and Innovation at Explore Charleston.

Tourism was almost non-existent in 2020 due to COVID-19 and pandemic shutdowns forcing businesses to fall on hard times. Tourism came back in full force in 2021 providing some relief for business owners like Solari.

It was a year presenting new challenges for business owners. Solari says he fought through labor and supply chain issues but nonetheless, his business had it’s best year yet.

“You know we went in lean with product and we went in lean with labor thinking we kind of wanted to step in slowly and make sure we didn’t over-extend ourselves and we got pummeled,” says Solari referring to the quick recovery.

Some businesses weren’t as lucky suffering hard hits in the early months forcing some owners to shutter their doors. Warner says after reopening’s and vaccine rollout, family vacations to the Lowcountry pushed the tourism industry through the roof even as business travel to the area almost completely disappeared.

“From May through the rest of the year, we were either exceeding 2019 numbers or right at them,” says Warner.

Hotel occupancy rates is the data used to judge tourism turnout and is the bar that sets the tone for tourism. Warner says hotel occupancy was down 3.8% from 2019 to 2021 but says daily rates were up 6.9% paying dividends for the industry.

Warner says some unpredictability remains in 2022 with COVID-19 still present but believes travel and tourism interest could bode well for the Holy City in the new year.

“The uncertainty of international travel, the increase in air lift capability in our community are all things that say 2022 is going to be a really good year,” says Warner.

Business owners and officials alike hope 2022 will hold more of the same.

“If it could be better fantastic, if it could be the same, fantastic,” says Solari. “I’ll take it anyway I can get it after being closed for those months through COVID-19, I mean I’m happy to be open.”

The Sunday after Christmas was the busiest at Charleston International Airport, nearly 7,000 thousand passengers passed through the airport. Airport travel saw a 43% increase over 2020.

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