COLUMBIA Gas prices may be going up this summer, but
tourism leaders throughout South Carolina expect vacationers
to keep on driving.
"Nobody's happy to see gas prices go up just before
the summer travel season," said Marion Edmonds, spokesman
for the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and
Tourism. "But there's a lot of pent-up desire for travel
out there with the economic recession and post-9-11. People
may have scaled back, not taking as long of a trip in distance
The Sternenberg family says it will do what it has done for
years, drive several times each summer from their Irmo home
to Myrtle Beach.
"It will cost us just a little more this year to get
to the beach, but maybe we just won't drive around as much
once we get there," said Janet Sternenberg, 46, laughing.
About 30 million people visit South Carolina each year. The
tourism industry means about $14.5 billion a year to the state.
So far, experts haven't seen that drop off with gas continuing
to increase in price. Edmonds said there's an increase of
2.3 percent in state accommodations taxes and 2.5 percent
in admissions-tax collections for the first eight months of
the fiscal year.
Brad Dean, head of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce,
has an eye on the pumps but expects the Grand Strand's affordability
to win out. Dean is anticipating a 6 percent growth in tourism
for Myrtle Beach, which he said he bases partly on phone calls
and Internet inquiries.
"Gas prices might keep people closer to home, which
if anything would boost and not hurt tourism," he said.
"But I'm not overly concerned. Myrtle Beach has such
a strong appeal for families."
AAA Carolinas spokeswoman Sarah Davis says Myrtle Beach is
second to Orlando, Fla., in requests for personalized travel