Charleston welcoming more visitors despite surging COVID-19 cases

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Charleston’s tourism scene is booming despite the spike in COVID numbers. This is being seen in hotel occupants, restaurant-goers, and air travelers. Local tourism experts say the numbers are significantly higher than 2020 data and higher than some weeks in 2019.

The Holy City is welcoming thousands of leisure travelers including those on family vacations, couple trips, or solo adventures. Tourism experts attribute the increase in visitors to pent-up demand for travel.

“If we look back at say the previous four months or so, April through July, our hotels have been running about 75% to 80% full,” said Daniel Guttentag, a tourism expert with the College of Charleston’s Office of Tourism Analysis.

Guttentag says more hotels opened their doors in 2020, so the city has more rooms to offer.

“So if we’re the same percentage full, that actually means that we’re selling more hotel rooms,” he explained. He says that is exactly what’s happening.

Over on the beaches, occupancy rates for vacation rentals are running around 90%, exceeding 2019 and 2020 levels.

As for how people are getting to and from Charleston, a lot of vacationers drive into town, but hundreds of thousands are coming via the sky. Guttentag says the airport has been having some of its busiest months ever.

We reached out to the airport for passenger totals.

In July of 2021, 490,290 passengers traveled through Charleston International Airport. In July of 2019, the airport saw 464,242 passengers.

“We are seeing higher numbers,” said Dan Blumenstock, the Director of Hotels for Lowcountry Hotels. “What we’re seeing though, is we have had a lot more from our leisure segment so a lot of pent-up demand since 2020 with COVID. We have a lot of outdoor activities that people are able to do here in Charleston.”

These high numbers are being reflected in charleston restaurants too. Eli Hyman, the owner of Hyman’s Seafood, says business has been booming.

“Compared to last year, great. And we’re actually exceeding 2019 numbers now,” said Hyman.

The biggest challenge that has faced the tourism industry all summer long is staffing. The shortage has led almost every restaurant, bar, and hotel in town to put ‘help needed’ signs in the window.

Hyman says he and his crew have been getting through it, although it is challenging.

“We’re just doing the very best we can every single day.”

He’s excited for the day that he can hire and retain good people to work at the Lowcountry staple.

Tourism leaders say they’re hopeful the trend will stick around throughout the fall and winter months as they say there are many fun things planned.

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