Optimistic outlook for Lowcountry economy in 2021

With 2020 now in the rearview mirror and vaccine distribution on the horizon, the year ahead holds promise for our Lowcountry economy. 

We continue to navigate a unique time in history, and in the Lowcountry we’ve once again risen to the challenge. We’re proud of our community and how we supported each other throughout 2020. 

As words like “pivot” and “new normal” became part of our national lexicon, we learned to work through challenges and uncertainty collaboratively. Last year was a testament to the human spirit and what’s possible when a community comes together. 

There were bright spots in our 2020 regional economy which bodes well for what’s ahead in the new year. 

The Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce focused on staying safe together. Tourism is the backbone of our Lowcountry economy and residents have been coexisting with visitors for decades. Our launch of the Path Forward Readiness Plan, in partnership with over 150 residents, businesses and government officials, helped pave the way for a safer community moving forward. The plan was recognized by several national media outlets and used as a model for other communities and organizations like the Vacation Rental Management Association. 

With wide-open spaces, miles of pristine beachfront, and numerous outdoor activities, Hilton Head Island saw visitors throughout the summer. July of 2020 outpaced 2019’s busiest month with the home and villa rental market as the driving force. 

Golf courses also saw sharp increases. According to Steve Birdwell, president & CEO of The Sea Pines Resort, they saw one of their best years in resort history. 

We’re cautiously optimistic about 2021 as a banner year for the regional economy and property values, thanks to a booming real estate market and the potential return of corporate meetings so vital to local resorts. 

The announcement that Southwest Airlines will service the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport with daily non-stops to five cities is stellar news for the coming year. New markets mean additional travel opportunities for resident and new visitors. Over half of all passengers coming into the airport are headed to Hilton Head Island and South Carolina. 

Fall was a great indicator of where we’re headed this year. With visitors working remotely and on “schoolcations” in the Lowcountry, our home and villa rental partners saw visitors with longer stays and larger spends. 

September saw a 68-percent increase in occupancy. October was also up 29 percent in home and villa occupancy and 22 percent in average daily rate compared to 2019. Our strong fall meant much to the bottom line of many businesses large and small in the Lowcountry. 

We have a phrase around the chamber that notes we are all in the tourism business, and it’s so true. Each of us is interconnected to tourism as the provider of jobs and our quality of life. 

Here’s to a positive year for our Lowcountry economy. 

 Bill Miles is President and CEO of the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce.