State pre­pares guide­lines for re­open­ing of tourist at­trac­tions

The State - - Front Page - BY JOSEPH BUSTOS jbus­tos@thes­

Gov. Henry Mc­mas­ter says al­low­ing tourist at­trac­tions to open for the Memo­rial Day week­end is a good rec­om­men­da­tion and he hopes to make a de­ci­sion soon on the mat­ter.

“We’ll take a good look at it,” Mc­mas­ter said Tues­day af­ter a meet­ing of Ac­cel­er­ate SC, a task force he formed and charged with help­ing the state plan for re­open­ing the econ­omy safely in the wake of the COVID-19 pan­demic.

The de­ci­sion would come as the tourism in­dus­try has seen a roughly $2 bil­lion drop in tourism-re­lated spend­ing be­tween March 15 and May 9 amid the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures com­piled by the U.S. Travel As­so­ci­a­tion.

That rep­re­sents a more than 80% drop in travel-re­lated spend­ing in South Carolina, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis of the Travel As­so­ci­a­tion’s data.

Mean­while ho­tels are mak­ing changes to how they op­er­ate in or­der to make sure guests feel safe when they stay overnight, and at­trac­tions and amuse­ment parks are pre­par­ing to wel­come cus­tomers again.

With Memo­rial Day week­end com­ing up, amuse­ments and at­trac­tions would ben­e­fit from be­ing open on what is typ­i­cally a busy week­end for travel, said Duane Par­rish, di­rec­tor of the state Parks, Recre­ation and Tourism agency.

Par­rish shared the rec­om­men­da­tion as Ac­cel­er­ate SC mem­bers — made up of health care of­fi­cials, elected lead­ers and busi­ness lead­ers — met to dis­cuss var­i­ous pro­posed guide­lines for re­open­ing the econ­omy.

In re­cent weeks, how­ever, Mc­mas­ter has eased re­stric­tions put in place to slow the spread of the coro­n­avirus. He has al­lowed cus­tomers to dine-in at restau­rants, cloth­ing and jew­elry stores to re­open, sa­lons and bar­ber­shops to see clients again, and al­lowed peo­ple to again go to beaches and pub­lic boat docks to re­open.

As a sign of pent up de­mand, there were large crowds in Myr­tle Beach and Hil­ton Head last week­end, when pools and at­trac­tions were closed.

“Open­ing up pools (Mon­day), open­ing at­trac­tions this week­end, would re­lieve some of that pres­sure of peo­ple be­ing to­gether in one place,” Par­rish said.

As the coro­n­avirus spread across the coun­try, states im­posed var­i­ous or­ders call­ing on peo­ple to stay home un­less they were get­ting es­sen­tial goods or ser­vices or go­ing to work. As a con­se­quence, tourism travel and spend­ing dra­mat­i­cally dropped. The tourism in­dus­try has been hit hard dur­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

Be­tween March 15 and May 9, the state has lost out on $229 mil­lion in fed­eral, state and lo­cal tax rev­enue.

Be­cause of the COVID-19 in­duced eco­nomic slow down, of­fi­cials have es­ti­mated tourism spend­ing in the state could be cut in half by the end of the year, from $24.5 bil­lion to $12.2 bil­lion.


As Mc­mas­ter weighs the next phase of re­open­ing the econ­omy, some at­trac­tions are still putting to­gether their own plans for how to op­er­ate amid the pan­demic.

“I’m con­fi­dent all of them have a plan in place for their in­di­vid­ual at­trac­tion,” Par­rish said.

The amuse­ments and at­trac­tions range from small ac­tiv­i­ties such as mini golf to large parks such as Carowinds along the North Carolina-south Carolina border. Par­rish added, how­ever, he doesn’t be­lieve Carowinds would be ready to open this week­end. The theme park would also need clear­ance from North Carolina.

Carowinds, whose par­ent com­pany is the San­dusky, Ohio-based Cedar Fair, orig­i­nally sched­uled to open for the sea­son on March 21, but post­poned open­ing for this year’s sea­son.

“Based on the best in­for­ma­tion we have cur­rently, we do not an­tic­i­pate re­sum­ing op­er­a­tions at any of our parks in the near term,” Cedar Fair Pres­i­dent and CEO Richard Zimmerman said in a news re­lease ear­lier this month. “This pro­jec­tion re­mains fluid and sub­ject to change as the sit­u­a­tion evolves, in­clud­ing if state and lo­cal guide­lines are mod­i­fied.”

When at­trac­tions open, staff and cus­tomers will be en­cour­aged to wear masks, and staff will con­stantly sanitize sur­faces, ac­cord­ing to guide­lines pre­sented to the Ac­cel­er­ate SC task force.

Among the rec­om­men­da­tions for amuse­ment parks is re­mov­ing printed maps and brochures for guests to have. Staff would be ad­vised to wipe down and dis­in­fect lap bars, han­dles and seat belts or har­nesses af­ter each time they are used by a guest.

“Those are good rules,” Mc­mas­ter said last week. “We’ll dis­cuss them a lit­tle bit more, and then make de­ci­sions of when to im­ple­ment them and how, (and whether to adopt) some or all of them, or maybe even some more.

One of those at­trac­tions pre­par­ing to re­open is Fun Ware­house in Myr­tle Beach, which brought back roughly 20 em­ploy­ees who were laid off to learn new clean­ing pro­ce­dures and so­cial dis­tanc­ing rules for when cus­tomers are al­lowed back in.

“We want to be a good part of the com­mu­nity, but of course we have a busi­ness to run,” said Tim Marks, vice pres­i­dent of Fun Ware­house. “We’re pretty much at wits end here. It ain’t go­ing to be long be­fore this ex­tra money runs out.”

The 56,000 square-foot Fun Ware­house has a ca­pac­ity of 1,200 peo­ple and of­fers laser tag, go karts, an ar­cade, roller skat­ing and in­flat­able bounce houses.

If the amuse­ment venue has the same lim­i­ta­tions put on other busi­nesses of 20% of posted ca­pac­ity or five peo­ple per 1,000 square feet, Fun Ware­house could have 280 peo­ple.

“I’m go­ing to fol­low the guide­lines. I’m not go­ing to have any more. I’m not go­ing to have any less,” Marks said.

When Fun Ware­house re­opens, laser tag ca­pac­ity will be cut from 30 to 15 peo­ple at a time so work­ers can wipe down the equip­ment af­ter each use. Staff will wipe down gokarts af­ter each race, and clean the in­flat­a­bles ev­ery half hour. Em­ploy­ees wipe down vir­tual re­al­ity head­sets and guns af­ter each use, but will also give guests their own wipes to clean off head­sets too.

“Ev­ery­thing still is go­ing to move a lit­tle slower,” Marks said.

The River­banks Zoo and Gar­den plans changes for when it even­tu­ally re­opens, in­clud­ing us­ing timed en­tries and lim­it­ing ca­pac­i­ties at at­trac­tions within the park. River­banks plans to limit ca­pac­ity to about 3,000 peo­ple.

River­banks will re­open at­trac­tions within its park in three phases, said River­banks Di­rec­tor of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Su­san O’cain.

Ca­pac­ity will be lim­ited in those at­trac­tions that will be open, such as hav­ing only 20% ca­pac­ity in the Aquar­ium-rep­tile Com­plex and Bird­house, and al­low­ing only up to two fam­i­lies at a time on the zoo’s Gi­raffe Over­look feed­ing ar­eas.


If you’re go­ing to visit out of town at­trac­tions in South Carolina and stay overnight, ho­tel op­er­a­tions may look dif­fer­ent.

Even though Mc­mas­ter never or­dered ho­tels to close, ho­tels in the state have seen a dra­matic drop in stays as travel has dropped since Fe­bru­ary.

Myr­tle Beach, how­ever, or­dered its lo­cal ho­tels to shut down for sev­eral weeks. At one point more than 570 ho­tels in South Carolina had closed on their own.

In the first week of Fe­bru­ary, ho­tel oc­cu­pancy was down 5.2% com­pared to the same week last year. For the week end­ing March 21, oc­cu­pancy was down 47.7%. For the week that ended April 11, ho­tel oc­cu­pancy was down 71.2% when com­pared to the same week of 2019, ac­cord­ing to the Depart­ment of Parks, Recre­ation and Tourism.

“So goes ho­tels, so goes other things,” Par­rish said.

Ho­tel guests also shouldn’t ex­pect to serve them­selves at the com­pli­men­tary break­fast. Guide­lines put to­gether by the S.C. Restau­rant and Lodg­ing As­so­ci­a­tion rec­om­mend hav­ing staff mem­bers, wear­ing per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment, serve guests.

Also house­keep­ing prob­a­bly won’t make beds ev­ery day for guests stay­ing mul­ti­ple nights. Guide­lines in­clude not hav­ing house­keep­ers en­ter rooms un­less specif­i­cally re­quested by guests in or­der to cut down on in­ter­ac­tion be­tween staff and guests.

“Ev­ery time a house­keeper goes in there, they’re touch­ing sur­faces you’re go­ing to touch, touch­ing sur­faces that you’ve touched,” said Bill Ellen the CEO of Ex­pe­ri­ence Columbia. “We’re try­ing to elim­i­nate that as much as pos­si­ble, re­al­iz­ing it might not be the lux­ury and com­fort you might be usu­ally ac­cus­tomed to, but we’re not in the usual world any­more right now.”

Room in­ven­tory may be lim­ited. The Restau­rant and Lodg­ing As­so­ci­a­tion rec­om­mends leav­ing a room va­cant for 24 hours af­ter a guest checks out so it could go through a deep clean­ing.

Ellen said block­ing off rooms for 24 hours af­ter a check­out would most likely limit in­ven­tory to 50%.

Guests also may be asked to an­swer if they had any re­cent symp­toms, been in­fected with the virus, or from where they’re vis­it­ing. Whether peo­ple could be de­nied a stay is still be­ing worked out, Ellen said.

Em­ploy­ees at ho­tels also would wear masks and gloves, have their tem­per­a­tures taken be­fore shifts and be tested for COVID-19 prior to re­turn­ing to work.

There would be fre­quent clean­ing of door han­dles and el­e­va­tor but­tons, and lim­it­ing el­e­va­tor us­age to one per­son or one fam­ily at a time.

“We’re not go­ing to get tourism back if guests don’t feel com­fort­able and safe,” Ellen said. “If we don’t take the pre­cau­tions, they’re not go­ing to feel that way .... There are some chal­lenges; there are some in­con­ve­niences. But it’s bet­ter (than) the sce­nario of stay at home, and no travel, and shut­tered ho­tels and closed restau­rants.”

Re­porter Maayan Schechter con­tributed to this ar­ti­cle.

GERRY ME­LEN­DEZ gme­len­dez@thes­

The lobby and front desk area at the Aloft ho­tel. Guests should not ex­pect daily house­keep­ing at ho­tels, ac­cord­ing to state guide­lines.

TAKAAKI IWABU State File Photo

Frankie’s Fun Park in Har­bi­son may be one of sev­eral state at­trac­tions open for Memo­rial Day week­end.

GERRY ME­LEN­DEZ gme­len­dez@thes­

Visi­tors will find changes at River­banks Zoo & Gar­den when it re­opens, in­clud­ing timed en­tries and lim­it­ing ca­pac­ity to about 3,000 peo­ple.

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