Tourists, Tourism Business Watching Frances - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

08/31/04

Tourists, Tourism Business Watching Frances

Tropical Storm Gaston already scared some visitors away. Tropical Storm Gaston already scared some visitors away.

We're all watching Hurricane Frances, so imagine if you have a holiday weekend visit to the coast planned. Like the Labor Day weekend coming up. Will Frances put a dent in the tourism business? Businesses and tourists are definitely aware that there could be a problem, but at this point, nobody's too concerned.

The beaches on Hilton Head Island this week have been fairly empty, with scares from Tropical Storm Gaston keeping some people away. It didn't hit Hilton Head, though, and didn't scare off the Bouchard family either, so they've reaped the benefits.

"It's been sort of advantageous at the moment," said Eric Bouchard. "No worrying about space. We pretty much have our pick of the beach."

It's probably too early to tell if Hurricane Frances will have the same effect, but it's definitely got people's attention. "I think everybody's in a wait-and-see mode," said Charlie Clark with the local chamber of commerce.

The fact that nobody knows exactly what Frances is going to do is putting tourists in a unique position. Most of them aren't making any new reservations, but people who already have them aren't canceling quite yet. Tourism officials hope they'll be able to retain the 80 percent occupancy rate they usually get on Labor Day weekend, but know that could end up being unrealistic.

"The hard part about that is sometimes the storm can head a completely different way than it's projected," said Clark. "So it's good to have that early prediction, at the same time it's important to just keep an eye on it and see what's happening."

If Frances does turn toward us, the Bouchard family will cut their trip short. But they're not too worried either way. "If it does come in, we'll have still gotten the better part of a week's vacation in beforehand, so we can't complain too much," said Eric.

That attitude is one rental properties hope more people take. We talked with Sea Pines management, and they said two very large groups haven't even considered canceling this far out.

Reported by: Chris Cowperthwaite, ccowperthwaite@wtoc.com

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