As parts of inland South Carolina continue to dry out from historic flooding, the state’s coastal destinations, with their world-class golf courses, restaurants and perfect fall temperatures, has one message for anyone planning a fall vacation: The coast is clear.
With recent photos of South Carolina’s waterlogged streets flooding news feeds around the world, it’s important for people to know that the state’s coastal destinations -- the Myrtle Beach area, Georgetown, Charleston, Beaufort and Hilton Head Island -- were not damaged in the floods, and fall vacation visitors are needed now more than ever.
“Yes, we did have an unprecedented weather event. It’s over,” says Perrin Lawson, deputy director of the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Certain areas of the state certainly were damaged, but many others were not. If you were planning to come to Charleston, there’s absolutely no reason to change your plans.”
The state’s coast was spared from the flood damage seen in Columbia and other inland areas, with leaders relying on lessons learned during hurricanes and other storms to keep problems away.
“We have a history of being able to deal with water and flooding,” says George Durant, vice president of tourism development for the North Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. “Our infrastructure is set up to deal with that and keep things running. We’re used to going out, cleaning up and going back to work. There are a lot of places for water to go on the coast.”
Fortunately for the Myrtle Beach area, leaders there spent the past two years developing a comprehensive emergency plan to address these kinds of situations.
“Thankfully, having that plan in place has enabled us to respond quickly and effectively, says Brad Dean, president of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.
Tourism leaders are working to combat an avalanche of photos on social media that show flooded streets and lots of water -- photos that were taken the day of the storm but often look as if they’re current.
“If someone posts an image of a flooded street with someone riding a paddleboard down it, unless it’s date and time-stamped, there’s no way to tell when it was taken,” Lawson says. “Images from today would show that we’ve got blue skies and dry roads, and people are obviously walking around and enjoying being in Charleston.”
Coastal leaders are fielding thousands of calls from visitors who are seeing photos and think their vacation plans need to change.
“For the first few days after the flooding, we were deluged with calls asking whether or not we had survived the storms and if we would be able to reopen,” Dean says. “Once the word got out that we are open for business, the calls and inquiries shifted to whether the visitors could get to the Myrtle Beach area. So our we've had to adapt to this concern, assuring visitors that we are open for business and they can, in fact, get to the beach without any problems.”
While some of the routes to the coast were temporarily closed or detoured just after the Oct. 4 floods, roadways and interstates, including Interstate 95, reopened quickly.
“It’s challenging when people are convinced that maybe they should put off their trip until the spring,” Lawson says, noting that the farther away the caller is, the more apt they are to believe the damage is significant. “I think we’re making headway, but we’re still getting a fair amount of calls every day.”
Getting that message out is crucial, especially with other areas of the state still recovering.
“Obviously the state needs every part of its economy to do well, and tourism is such a big part of it,” Lawson says. “Tourism is one of the biggest economic drivers in the state. You would hate for people to stay away when there’s no reason to stay away.”
Getting that message out quickly is crucial to the thousands of businesses that rely on year-round visitors.
“We were on track to have our best fall season ever, so we did not want to cancel the 'come visit the Myrtle Beach area' message,” Dean says. “Nevertheless, the hype surrounding the flooding definitely took its toll on our tourism industry... Reservations dropped significantly. We are seeing a gradual climb but our pace for the next few weeks is still off, which suggests that this situation has a lingering impact.”
Coastal tourism groups are using social media to help reach their visitors, showing real-time scenes and asking people to post photos of their favorite spots. North Myrtle Beach has been posting pictures of iconic locations with people holding up a sign with a simple, clear message: “The Coast is Clear.”
“We were fortunate and blessed to have been relatively untouched by this storm, and we want people to come and celebrate, and do the things that they’d planned to do,” Durant says. “We are sharing an appropriate, respectful message, but also one that lets people know that the coast is clear.”
Typically, October is the month with the most predictable weather -- warm temperatures with low humidity, blue skies, a relatively warm ocean and trees that are still green. And that converges at a time when rates are more affordable.
“The weather is absolutely beautiful and all of our businesses and attractions, sites and tours are up and running,” Lawson says. “There’s really no reason not to come. Right now is no different than any other October.”
Many people who vacation along the coast in the fall are repeat visitors, who seem grateful and delighted that the area they love was spared long-term damage.
“Those things that have always made it a great time to come are still here in large, large doses,” Durant says. “We have long thought that the greatest potential for coastal vacations was in the shoulder seasons, and now might be the greatest time of all to ask people to come experience that.”