HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (WSAV) – The pandemic changed many things, including the tourism season in the Lowcountry.
So what has the COVID-19 crisis meant for renters, buyers and visitors, and what’s to come?
“It’s getting much busier now than any year in history,” said Bill Miles, President and CEO of the Hilton Head Chamber of Commerce. “In February alone, our website visits were up 47%.”
A historic year — that’s what rental companies are saying about 2020, but not just because of the pandemic.
“We have surpassed any number that we have ever done by at least 25% up at this point, we are 75% up this year over last,” said Beth Henzler of Vacation Company.
The numbers show a trend upward in business that experts hope isn’t going away anytime soon.
“There are complete bookings through when you are mentioning November through now. We are fully occupied for the next few weeks,” said Mary Kate Smith of Vacation Company.
“Going into the summer, we are looking at about 24% on the home and villa side, increase in that,” said Miles.
“July is probably 95-96%,” said Henzler. “You will find a pocket a single week here in a property. You are just amazed that’s available. It won’t be.”
On the Vacation Company’s website, type in the Fourth of July week, and the pickings are slim. Just 6% of their more than 300 properties are still available.
“If they are shopping and they don’t make a decision as soon as possible it could be 24 hours and the property is gone. It’s already rented,” explains Henzler. “Because we have a waiting list, I have emails flagged on my computer in case we get cancellations come in or we take a new property on I can call a guest and say hey this just came on the market.”
Experts say online jobs and schools, and big open beaches have brought in guests.
“Our beaches don’t get packed. You aren’t necessarily on top of someone. Even Fourth of July, you still have elbow room,” said Henzler.
Better weather and the balance between private homes and condos have also led to more people here.
The demand for rentals has led to higher prices but has not stopped the number of people coming from across the country.
“People wanted to be here,” said Henzler. “Their kids are still working remotely, they were prepared to pay the full rate. It was more than the traditional retiree who was on a fixed budget.”
Miles credits Southwest Airlines’ new stops at the Savannah-Hilton Head Regional Airport, and an increase of flights at the Hilton Head Airport in making traveling to the area even easier.
More people means more money and jobs for local businesses as well. Not just in stores, but making sure rental properties are prepped and ready for the next family; part-time staff who play a key role in the weekly transition.
“We have high school kids right now,” said Smith. “We are bringing on college kids, teachers who have the summer off. We are open to get any additional help we can finally get.”
Vacation Company says a robust real estate market has also led to a lot of turnovers — owners who sell to the next family who wants to live here full-time, or take advantage of the money to be made renting.