July is typically the Wilmington area's busiest month for tourists, and a record number of visitors are expected to travel 50 miles or more away from home in North Carolina and South Carolina this year during the Fourth of July holiday weekend.
Historically, room occupancy tax figures show July as the peak month for visitors, said Connie Nelson, spokeswoman for the Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"In years past when we’ve had really good weather, we’ve been able to fill most of the hotel rooms," Nelson said Friday. "Even if they don’t sell out in advance, typically there are a lot of walk-in visitors."
Weather forecasters on Friday afternoon were predicting a 60 percent chance of rain each day through July 4. But travel forecasters were optimistic about the numbers of people who are expected to take to the roads, air, rails and waterways for the Independence Day holiday.
AAA Carolinas officials predict a record-breaking 1.25 million North Carolinians and more than 630,000 South Carolinians will travel 50 miles or more away from home during what would be the most-traveled Fourth of July holiday weekend ever, according to a recent news release.
"We are primarily a drive destination, so when they say it's going to be record-breaking, that usually bodes pretty well for us as well," Nelson said of Wilmington and its beach towns.
The Independence Day holiday travel period is defined as Friday through Tuesday by AAA.
"Higher confidence has led to more consumer spending, and many Carolinians are choosing to allocate their extra money on travel this Independence Day weekend," said Dave Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas, in the release. "The historic number of travelers adds to what is already shaping up to be a busy summer travel season."
Nelson and AAA officials said low gas prices will help.
"Gas prices have been declining in June, a result of strong oil production in the U.S. The average price for a gallon of gas in North Carolina is $2.12, 8 cents less than last year. South Carolina's average is also 8 cents less than 2016 at $1.94. However, consumers may see prices increase, albeit by pennies, closer to the holiday weekend, similar to the Memorial Day gas price trend," the AAA Carolinas news release said.
The release mentions Wilmington as being among the most popular driving destinations for both North Carolina and South Carolina travelers. Other cities included in the list were Charlotte; Myrtle Beach, Charleston and Greenville, South Carolina; and Washington D.C.
The N.C. Fourth of July Festival in Southport continues through July 4 and typically brings in 40,000 to 50,000 people total over four days, said Karen Sphar, executive vice president of the Southport-Oak Island Area Chamber of Commerce. Sphar said many of the area's week-to-week vacation rentals were full as of Friday afternoon.
At the Blockade Runner resort at Wrightsville Beach, only a few rooms were left as of Friday morning.
Occupancy at the 150-room hotel is typically high from mid-June to mid-August, said Karen Pennington, Blockade Runner's marketing director.
"We are experiencing a very strong Fourth of July activity level," Pennington said Friday.
The Hampton Inn & Suites Carolina Beach Oceanfront, which opened in August last year, was about half full around lunch time on Friday. Assistant general manager Stephen Kelly said more visitors are expected throughout the weekend at the 100-room hotel, but occupancy will depend on the weather.
"We are fingers-crossed that it will be sunny," he said.
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