- Associated Press - Saturday, April 19, 2014

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) - The Grand Strand is expecting a crowd for the Easter weekend, and officials hope it’s a sign of what’s ahead for the upcoming tourist season.

The Sun News of Myrtle Beach reports (https://bit.ly/1i34viv) Taylor Damonte of Coastal Carolina University’s Center for Resort Tourism expects lodging occupancy to hit about 93 percent because Easter occurs later this year.

The busy weekend could be the highlight of an up and down spring for the beach. While lingering cold weather hurt some weekend occupancy, the harsh winter across the country may be helping local lodging properties.

Preliminary statistics from CCU show lodging occupancy for the early spring is up compared to the same period last year, but the statistics don’t include the past two weeks, when several properties reported being full or nearly full, or this year’s Easter holiday.

Between Feb. 23 and April 5, occupancy averaged 53.2 percent, up about 3.8 percent compared to the same period in 2013.

“People are really starting to come out of their shell,” said Matt Klugman of Vacation Myrtle Beach, a group of local hotels. “We are seeing April and May looking good. It’s pent-up demand. Everybody is tired of the weather.”

Myrtle Beach hosts the Harley-Davidson rally in mid-May. That’s followed by Atlantic Beach Bikefest and Military Appreciation Days, both scheduled for Memorial Day weekend.

Early summer is another issue. Winter snow prompted many missed days for schools in the Northeast and Carolinas, where many of the beach’s tourists come from. Some of those students might have to make up those days in early June, which could delay the start of the summer season.

But at Lakewood Camping Resort, bookings this year are up 8,000 camping nights compared to this time last year, said Shannon Gomer, chairwoman of the board.

“People are making reservations because they want some sunshine,” she said. “It has been a long winter.”

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