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Tourism: Vacation rentals continue to improve

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Summer 2011 has been a good one for tourism on Waccamaw Neck, according to area rental property management companies.

As Labor Day and the end of the regular tourist season approach, preliminary numbers show rentals were up 5 to 10 percent over last year, even though 2010 saw an increase in visitors due to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Last year was an unbelievable one and kind of hard to top,” said Sharon Abee, marketing sales coordinator for Litchfield Real Estate. “We’re really happy and thankful that we were able to.”

Conservatively, she anticipates, the company’s rental numbers will end up being 7 or 8 percent higher than last year. It reported 100 percent occupancy for at least four weeks this year, whereas only two weeks in 2010 had all rentals filled.

At Pawleys Island Realty, estimates show the company saw at least 5 percent more people booking than in 2010.

The Lachicotte Co. expects numbers to be up 8 to 10 percent.

Figures aren’t in yet for James W. Smith Real Estate or Dunes Beach Home Rentals, but representatives from both say there was a clear increase in bookings.

“June was a little off, but we’ve had a good year and a very active August,” said Dana Arneman, manager at Dunes. “The phones did get a little quiet when people started talking about a double-dip recession and debt ceiling, but now it’s back to where it should be.”

There are a myriad of factors that went into this year’s increase, companies report.

“I think one of the reasons was the economy was a little bit better for many people than it was last year at this time,” said Alan Altman, a partner at Pawleys Island Realty.

But the company also started some new marketing efforts, which he believes helped put it ahead for the summer.

“We certainly are having to compete harder for vacationing families than we used to,” he said. “We have had to look for new ways to attract vacationing families. All up and down the coast, there’s so much available to rent, including some accommodations that have never before been on the market.”

Other companies also tried out new marketing tactics that helped their numbers.

“We advertised on some other websites that go after renters in different areas, maybe things you wouldn’t necessarily expect a rental company to use,” Abee said. “We’ve also been very successful with using guest reviews.”

An excellent rating on tripadvisor.com got a lot of people’s attention, she added.

People who rented through the Lachicotte Co. gave a number of reasons for staying in the Pawleys Island area, said Lou Lachicotte, broker in charge. Some wanted to gather family members from around the country together in one place. Others were coming back after having tried out other vacation destinations and more were passing a tradition down to later generations.

But Lachicotte said she thinks stress created by a long-struggling economy and the threat that things will get worse before they get better brought a lot of people to the area.

“The economy has got everybody on edge and people want to relax and have a good time, whereas last year they were kind of holding back,” she said.

Some are still waiting longer to book, but they’ve decided it’s time to start enjoying their lives again, she added.

Each company reported increased bookings in 2010 as a result of the Gulf oil spill and some of those new bookings returned this year. However, Arneman said he doesn’t think that has much to do with higher numbers for 2011.

“We picked up a little, but not a lot from the Gulf. We weren’t dependent on those Gulf Coast numbers,” he said.

Jimmy Smith, who owns James W. Smith Real Estate said he has seen more renters extending their stays. People who used to come for the weekend are staying a full week. He said he also sees lots of people who used to vacation overseas coming to the Pawleys Island area instead.

Early indications are that fall and winter will also be good for those who rely on tourism.

Companies report bookings are rolling in not only for September and October, but also the holiday season and into next spring. Numbers are already looking better than they did last fall and “last year we had a good fall,” Altman said.

Lachicotte said she is seeing an increase in long-term and short-term rentals for the coming months.

“I can tell that just from talking to people,” she said. “We’re very pleased and we keep getting more calls every day.”

Smith’s company is preparing some special golf packages, which he said he hopes will bump his numbers for future months even higher.

“It’s never as good as you want it to be and it depends on the weather, which we’re always subject to, but hopefully it will be another good year,” he said.

Smith estimates 60 percent of those who book with him are repeat visitors and a lot of them book far in advance for holidays.

“They know if they wait too late, they’ll get left out,” he said.

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