Myrtle Beach Memorial Day: What to know about crowds, plans

Magenet Magenet

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Last year, Myrtle Beach businesses wanted to open “the floodgates” to tourists, hoping to see as many visitors as possible.

They sure got it. The occupancy rate for hotels and vacation rentals like Airbnb hovered near 90% during the weekend, according to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. Restaurants and attractions had hours long wait times. Concerts were booked out well in advance. And traffic? Oh, the traffic was endless.

But what about this year? Will crowds be just as huge? Will Myrtle Beach be overwhelmed with visitors?

The answer can’t be known for sure until the weekend arrives, but there are some signs that tourism has calmed down a bit compared to last year.

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Crowds gather at local restaurants in Myrtle Beach. On boats, beaches and the boulevards, tourists and residents enjoy the first days of the summer season on the Grand Strand during Memorial Day weekend 2021. May 29, 2021. JASON LEE

For one, the Chamber expects hotel occupancy to be about 80%, lower than the holiday weekend last year. Businesses are also a lot more prepared, Chamber CEO Karen Riordan said. Many of them started hiring as early as November of last year in preparation for spring. Also, the buildup of tourism season has been much slower. Rather than a deluge of visitors starting in March that never let up, growth this season has been much more gradual, Riordan said.

“2021 was a bit of an anomaly, not really consistent with anything else because so many people didn’t travel in 2020 and they sort of made up for that demand in 2021,” Riordan said.

So, if you’re heading to Myrtle Beach for Memorial Day weekend here’s what to expect as the Grand Strand celebrates the unofficial start to summer.

Crowds

Hotels and vacation rentals have filled up slowly throughout the season, going from 30-40% occupancy before March to 60-70% most weeks now, with higher rates on the weekends, according to the Chamber.

“By not having this big surge of business like we saw in 2021, we’ve been able to handle the workforce situation a little bit more calmly,” Riordan said. ”This is the new normal now, so we’re better prepared. We know how to do this, and we’re getting to be pretty resilient.”

Hotel occupancy is overall lower than last year, but the cost of a stay has gone up considerably, especially for those booking at the last minute.

The Chamber’s lodging metrics show hotel rooms cost an average of 10-30% more than last year. Vacation rentals, such as Airbnb and VRBO, are even worse, with some weeks showing they are 45% more expensive per night than last year.

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Beachgoers pack the beach in the Cherry Grove section o North Myrtle Beach. On boats, beaches and the boulevards, tourists and residents enjoy the first days of the summer season on the Grand Strand during Memorial Day weekend 2021. May 29, 2021. JASON LEE

Restaurants are likely to be more pricey than they have been in past years, as inflation has eaten into budgets and driven up the cost of labor and food. Many restaurants still are struggling to find enough workers and have shortened their operating hours.

“Some businesses have decided that they are going to close on Sunday, even though, in theory, visitors would still be here,” Riordan said. “But let’s face it, a lot of them check out at 11 and then maybe go to the beach or they may start their journey home.”

And now it looks like businesses might not ever find those workers. Last week, South Carolina reported it had finally recovered the total number of jobs it lost at the start of the pandemic. The data has shown how many hospitality workers are not unemployed anymore — they left the industry altogether for something else, often something less stressful or higher paying, Federal Reserve economist Laura Ullrich said.

“All these jobs are hard jobs that have gotten harder due to COVID and the recovery most likely, and they’re also not really very high-paying sectors,” Ullrich said. With so many other jobs open, “it makes it very difficult to fill those positions in the lower wage, potentially higher stress sectors.”

To keep up, businesses will have to adapt, Riordan said, and automate wherever they can.

“People are being very creative,” she said. “They are being very resilient. And they’re saying, ‘This is what I need to keep the workforce that I have have sane and stable and rested and in a position to do their job and do it well.’”

The Myrtle Beach airport was one of the most obvious places that struggled to handle the surge in visitors in 2021, with lines just to get through security sometimes exceeding an hour and rental car lines running late into the night. This time around, the airport said it is better equipped for summer crowds. The Transportation Security Administration made some changes halfway through summer to speed up security processing, which cut down the lines considerably.

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None of the Transportation Security Administration workers observed by The Sun News on Saturday, April 23, 2022, at Myrtle Beach International Airport wore masks. A federal judge had struck down the federal COVID-19 mask mandate five days earlier. Chase Karacostas

However, airlines such as Avelo, Southwest, Spirit and Frontier keep adding new flights to their schedules for Myrtle Beach. That means there will be a lot more people going through the airport, so keep these tips in mind:

  • You can no longer expect to arrive 45 minutes before your flight and still make it; arrive much earlier. Expect long lines at airport security. The TSA recommends arriving at the airport two hours ahead of your flight.
  • Buying souvenirs? Check with TSA online to make sure they can go on the plane. Those “Myrtle Beach” emblazoned pocket knives or your mini Pelicans baseball bat need to go in a checked bag.
  • Someone brought a full handle of Tito’s Handmade Vodka to security last Memorial Day. No, that cannot fly in your carry on.

Tips for the beach

With crowds come crowded beaches, and crowded beaches bring lots of shading devices. If you’re planning to bring a Shibumi Shade — those tents that often span 10-15 feet and fly overhead with two poles on either side — don’t. They are banned in North Myrtle Beach May 15 to Sept. 15. Only regular beach umbrellas are allowed. The rules are the same in Myrtle Beach from Memorial Day through Labor day. Surfside Beach allows tents, but they must be less than 10 feet by 10 feet in size.

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Beachgoers pack the beach in the Cherry Grove section o North Myrtle Beach. On boats, beaches and the boulevards, tourists and residents enjoy the first days of the summer season on the Grand Strand during Memorial Day weekend 2021. May 29, 2021. JASON LEE

Visiting the beach won’t be all sunshine, rainbows and umbrellas. Here’s what to know the two biggest complications ahead: weather and traffic.

  • Weather: Expect rain, and possibly even heavy thunderstorms, Friday afternoon and into the evening. The rain should clear up by mid-afternoon Saturday, and Myrtle Beach will stay sunny through Monday.
  • Traffic: Most of the usual traffic policies will be in affect — Ocean Boulevard will be southbound traffic only and access to Kings Highway will be limited to major intersections like 29th Avenue North, Ninth Avenue North and 13th Avenue South.

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Ocean Boulevard was restricted to one way traffic creating a miles long jam in Downtown Myrtle Beach. On boats, beaches and the boulevards, tourists and residents enjoy the first days of the summer season on the Grand Strand during Memorial Day weekend 2021. May 29, 2021. JASON LEE

Want something specific to do? Here’s two of the top highlights for events this weekend.

  • In the Market Common, Myrtle Beach is holding the Military Appreciation Days Parade to honor the nation’s heroes, followed by a family picnic.
  • Atlantic Beach Bike Fest runs all weekend, starting Friday, and features live music, dozens of vendors and lots of food.

And remember, COVID is still in the air. If you are worried about getting it, make sure to practice social distancing, wear a mask and wash your hands often.

“Some of our residents wear masks and gloves when they are out. Please respect their choice. They may be in higher risk categories,” North Myrtle Beach said in its Memorial Day advisory. “We sometimes hear people say, ‘If you’re afraid, stay home.’ We remind you that this is their home.”

North Myrtle Beach has also banned all open fires and grilling on its beaches, a change from previous years.

Finally, don’t forget to put on sunscreen! Nobody wants to return to work or school looking like a tomato.

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On boats, beaches and the boulevards, tourists and residents enjoy the first days of the summer season on the Grand Strand during Memorial Day weekend 2021. May 29, 2021. JASON LEE

This story was originally published May 26, 2022 5:00 AM.

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Chase Karacostas writes about tourism in Myrtle Beach and across South Carolina for McClatchy. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2020 with degrees in Journalism and Political Communication. He began working for McClatchy in 2020 after growing up in Texas, where he has bylines in three of the state’s largest print media outlets as well as the Texas Tribune covering state politics, the environment, housing and the LGBTQ+ community.



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