NEW YORK -- Travel agents last week were busy rescheduling clients
who were heading into or out of the Carolinas and Virginia, as
Hurricane Bonnie slammed into beach resorts and coastal communities
during the busy summer season.
Bonnie was the first major storm of this year's Atlantic
hurricane season, which experts are predicting will have
above-average activity well into October.
Bonnie blew into shore last Wednesday, damaging buildings,
causing severe, widespread flooding and cutting off power to nearly
a half-million people.
The biggest concerns in the Virginia Beach area have been from
travelers wondering if they are going to get out of the area
airports on time, according to Robin Tucker, general manager of the
travel department at Great Atlantic Travel & Tours in Virginia
Beach, Va. "I've had several business travelers reschedule or
cancel trips because they were concerned they wouldn't get out or
back in because of the storm," Tucker said. "It's frustrating
because what do you tell them when you have no answers about the
At press time, hotel occupancy in Virginia Beach dropped to 30%
from the seasonal average of 90%, said Ron Kuhlman, director of
marketing for the Virginia Beach Convention and Visitor Development
Department. "Until Bonnie checks out, we won't have any idea of
physical damage, but the economic loss from lack of tourist
spending can be measured in millions," Kuhlman said.
Despite Bonnie's fury, Myrtle Beach, S.C., remained relatively
unscathed and was open for business Thursday following the lifting
of an evacuation order, tourism officials said.
Officials in Horry County, which includes the popular Myrtle
Beach area, reported damaged buildings, downed trees and power
lines, and sporadic power outages in the aftermath of the storm.
The storm damaged "a few hotel properties," said Ashby Ward,
president of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, who
estimated that 90% of the area's businesses reopened Thursday.
A spokesman for the South Carolina Department of Parks,
Recreation & Tourism, who toured several Myrtle Beach hotels,
said the damage was limited to flooding, broken windows, ripped
signs and awnings, and widespread debris. The spokesman said
officials estimate the storm pounded Myrtle Beach's economy to the
tune of more than $10 million a day in lost tourism revenue.
Elsewhere along South Carolina's coast, tourism officials said
Hurricane Bonnie bypassed Charleston, Kiawah Island and Hilton Head
Island without causing any damage, with hotels, restaurants and
attractions open for business.
In fact, officials there reported an increase in business as
vacationers and residents up the coast fled the affected areas.
"Meetings and conventions currently on the books were not affected
by Bonnie," said Susan Thomas, vice president of the Hilton Island
Chamber of Commerce Visitor and Convention Bureau.
At press time, North Carolina's 300 miles of coastline was still
under an evacuation order, and officials said it was too soon to
assess damage to the area's tourism infrastructure.
A spokeswoman for the North Carolina Division of Tourism, Film
and Sports Development said tourism last year pumped $27 million a
week into the state's 20 coastal communities.
About 500,000 residents and tourists fled inland from beach
resorts and coastal communities as the hurricane approached the
coasts of South Carolina and North Carolina early last week.
Southern Florida is no stranger to hurricanes, particularly
Hurricane Andrew in 1992, but Bonnie passed by the area without
harm, officials said.
Pamela Stack, owner of R&R Travel in Miami, said her main
concern when a storm is approaching is keeping clients calm.
"Everybody gets all excited when they hear about a bad storm
coming," Stack said. "I think one of my jobs is to calm people down
so they don't panic. I try to tell them that doesn't solve
For instance, Stack said a client called her and wanted to know
what she could do about her son vacationing in Puerto Rico as
Bonnie approached. "There's really not a whole lot I can do; each
storm is different," Stack said. "In this case, turns out Bonnie
didn't touch Puerto Rico."