Here's how coronavirus is affecting tourism across South Carolina
With major event cancellations as well as more cautious travelers business and leisure travelers, the effect of the coronavirus on South Carolina's tourism industry is beginning to be seen.
The first week of March showed a 5.4% decrease in hotel occupancy rates across South Carolina, said Dawn Dawson-House, director of corporate communications for the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism.
That number is lower than the nationwide dip in hotel occupancy, 7.3%, and the overall South Atlantic region's, 6.9%, but it's still a "significant drop," she said. Statewide hotel occupancy rates may go down or up within single digit or two, but not typically that much, she said.
Dawson-House said her department hasn't pinpointed the exact reason for the drop, but that they believe the coronavirus is likely the main contributing factor. In about a month, they will have more statewide numbers gauging the economic impact of the coronavirus, she said.
Overall tourism in the state is "very much holding its own," according to a statement from the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association. With the state being a market where 81% of visitors drive to get here, the organization believes "the virus' impact will be minimized."
Here's a look at local impacts from the coronavirus so far across the Palmetto State.
The loss of that event alone will be a major hit for the city. It was projected to have a $1.9 million economic impact with at least 6,000 fans attending, said Scott Montgomery, vice president of sales for VisitGreenvilleSC, but now there won't be fans coming to watch the games and spend money in the city at restaurants and hotels.
It all has a "ripple effect," he said, and hourly workers in the city could be hit particularly hard.
“That ripples across the economy, not only here, but the entire nation," he said. “It’s hard to measure quantitatively what that is."
Montgomery said Greenville has also seen a negative impact on business travel and conferences and catering as fears of the virus heighten in what is typically projected to be one of the city's "stronger months" in March and April.
“It’s hard to put a dollar figure on it," he said. “It’s hard for us to measure until we get a couple weeks into it."
One silver lining though is that 80% of travelers to the Greenville area drive here, Montgomery said, which he hopes could mean regional residents planning air travel to further-away places decide to visit Greenville instead as a driving-distance option.
At Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (GSP) there hasn't been a "noticeable" drop in passenger activity and passengers traveling now are holding onto tickets for trips they purchased some time ago, said Tom Tyra, director of communications and air service development at the airport.
"It is uncertain what, if any, impact that media reports about the virus will have on future bookings," Tyra said.
GSP hasn't been notified of cuts in the number of flights by airlines, but is "monitoring the situation closely," he said.
In Spartanburg, some business has been lost, but there had also been some gain in economic impact due to the coronavirus, namely the GEICO Nationals high school basketball tournament that had been moved from New York City to Dorman High School, said Naomi Sargent, vice president of strategic communications at the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce.
However, the GEICO Nationals tournament was later postponed indefinitely and so will not be coming to Spartanburg County in early April, as previously reported.
Sargent said they don't have Spartanburg-specific quantified impact to share at this time though.
In Anderson, the 2020 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series at Lake Hartwell presented by Bass Pro Shops, which had been scheduled for March 26 to 28, has been postponed.
That event was projected to have about a $850,000 economic impact on the Anderson area, said Visit Anderson Executive Director Neil Paul. But since the event is planned to be rescheduled, Anderson will still be able to benefit from the major fishing tournament at a later date.
“The time of the year doesn’t necessarily matter from that standpoint," Paul said.
There will also be some lost business at Anderson area hotels due to the suspension of all Atlantic Coast Conference sports. Clemson University sporting events drew visitors to the area and brought business to hotels outside of Clemson in Anderson as well, Paul said.
“There’s a little bit of impact there," he said.
In Charleston, there has been an "increased impact" on group and leisure travel, as uncertainty around the virus continues, according to a statement from Helen Hill, CEO of Explore Charleston. Because it's still a "fluid situation," it's too soon to be able to quantify those effects though, she said.
Many travelers to Charleston are postponing and rebooking trips as opposed to canceling them though, according to Hill.
Explore Charleston is leaning on hurricane preparedness plans to inform certain aspects of its approach to the situation.
"While it's unfortunate we've had to lean on those plans the past several years, it also means our industry is well versed in coordinating efforts during evolving situations that might disrupt existing plans for travel to our region," Hill said in an emailed statement.
In Myrtle Beach, there have been some group cancellations primarily related to corporate travel restrictions, but a lot of those trips have been rebooked for a later date in the year, according to an emailed statement from Karen Riordan, president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber is surveying business and hospitality partners to report impacts "in real time as the situation continues to change," Riordan said.
In Columbia, there hasn't been an impact on travel yet, said Charlene Slaughter, director of communications for Experience Columbia SC. Recommended health precautions have been implemented at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, like increased cleaning and her organization is monitoring the situation, Slaughter said.
In the city of Camden and Kershaw County, where there have been several cases of coronavirus, there could be a negative economic impact though. A major horse race, the Carolina Cup, scheduled for March 28, has been canceled, said Toby Edwards, executive director of the Carolina Cup Racing Association.
Suzi Sale, tourism development director for Camden, said she couldn't project what that impact will mean for her area at this time.
"While we know this will have an effect on our hospitality sector, at this time, our community is very much in support of the decision," she said of the Carolina Cup's cancellation. "Spirits remain positive throughout the county overall."