Labor Day Weekend 2020 in Myrtle Beach is taking a small step toward tourism – in that its live indoor entertainment attractions will again operate under certain COVID-19 related mandates.
On August 3, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster permitted the reopening of several entertainment businesses under required implement measures listed in accelerateSC, a multi-point, coronavirus pandemic response plan. Created to counteract the impact of COVID-19 within South Carolina, accelerateSC centers on revitalizing the state’s economy while providing residents with access to COVID-19 related information.
With these specific businesses in Myrtle Beach, Karen Riordan, president and CEO at Visit Myrtle Beach, noted that this measure can help recoup some lost business since their spring 2020 closures.
“On the day that [McMaster] made that announcement, I think he could probably hear them from Myrtle Beach all the way in Colombia, because they were cheering so much,” said Riordan.
As for Myrtle Beach, this news from their state governor is overall a big deal. A major tourism destination for South Carolina, this beachside city has been impacted as much other places across the state but more so with its usual influx of tourists.
Gov. McMaster began declaring his COVID-19 driven Executive Orders on March 13, and has been continuing them through the end of March and April by implementing the closure of various public venues.
Along fellow South Carolina establishments, Myrtle Beach’s live indoor entertainment venues now must cap their attendance numbers at a maximum of 250 people. “I think it affects Myrtle Beach pretty distinctly because we have so many of those venues,” said Riordan.
In speaking with McMaster over the months leading up to the August decision, Riordan said that the Governor told her that he felt it wasn’t the right time to reopen businesses yet due to high cases. On July 29, the Governor’s office released a press announcement stating that, effective on August 3, attendance at businesses facilities, venues, events or mass gatherings may not exceed this numerical limit.
“My understanding is that in his conversations with our [state’s] Department of Health and Environmental Control, they felt that the cases statewide were going in the right direction,” stated Riordan. A Forbes article reported that parts of the state under public mask-wearing mandates registered a 46.3% drop in coronavirus cases in the four weeks after they were introduced compared to areas of the state that aren’t.
South Carolina’s live entertainment venues will now have their seatings spaced out and a complete cleaning process be conducted in between performances. Both venue employees and audience members must wear masks.
“Most of our live venue theaters are only going to do one performance a day, at least for the short term,” said Riordan, “and see how everything goes so that they do have that adequate time to clean down the entire theater before the next performance the following day.”
Located in North Myrtle Beach, Alabama Theatre has posted its COVID-19 related procedures online. Having been closed for over five months, the popular attraction will now include the usage of EPA-approved disinfectants before, during and after each performance and the addition of partitions at all points of sale. Management will also require face masks for all staff as well as ticketholders.
“Our show is changing slightly to accommodate spacing between entertainers on stage but the show content will be the same,” said Abby Smith Scher, Alabama Theatre’s director of marketing and public relations.
“We will be operating at approximately a 20% capacity per CDC guidelines,” she noted. “In order to follow CDC guidelines, we are blocking off every other row and blocking off empty seats to social distance between groups on the same row.”
In addition to wearing masks, Smith Scher also explained that all employees will have to take a questionnaire about their health daily plus have their temperatures taken every day. Additionally, “they will be responsible to report any exposure to COVID-19.”
The Carolina Opry, the first live entertainment theater in Myrtle Beach, is also following similar socially-distanced seating and sanitation procedures along with operating at reduced capacity.
As an additional safety precaution, Jordan Gilmore Watkins, vice president, director of marketing for Gilmore Entertainment, the Carolina Opry will refrain from holding their performer meet and greets and autograph signings at this time.
“We will be sure that our choreography and backstage processes promote distancing for the safety of our cast and crew,” she added, “but the show experience will remain the same; in fact, it will be better than ever.”
Gilmore Watkins noted that it’s too soon to predict how ticket bookings will go for Labor Day Weekend and beyond, but so far she is optimistic. “We have received an overwhelmingly positive response since we opened ticket sales and numbers are looking really hopeful.”
With outdoor venues such as golf and mini-golf courses, Riordan noted that the staff at these venues will be spreading out players.
As for dining out, AccelerateSC guidelines require restaurants in South Carolina have to cap indoor dining at 50 percent, while tables to be spaced at least six feet apart. No more than eight customers per table, unless from the same family are allowed. Restaurant owners and staff were also required to follow kitchen protocols relating to food preparation and serving along with specific health and safety training.
Restaurants have also been offering to-go orders via carry-out, curbside pickup, drive through or delivery.
“We have [also] seen so many restaurants take advantage of patio outdoor dining, said Riordan. “Overall, the restaurants are fighting for survival they but have really pivoted and evolved and adjusted to make it work for them as best they can.”
With hotels, Riordan said that Visit Myrtle Beach has heard anecdotally for the industry that a few new vacancy signs up Labor Day Weekend. “That really hasn’t happened all year,” she explained, in adding that all South Carolina hotels must comply with specific AccelerateSC guidelines.
While anticipation for visitation for Labor Day Weekend is hopeful, Riordan estimates that at the end of 2020, Myrtle Beach is estimating an approximately 30% decline. She cited that usually the city welcomes 20 million visitors annually.
“Our big focus is in again, maintaining our business community so that we can continue to recover and strengthen month after month,” said Riordan, “so that as we go into the fall, and then start anticipating next spring and next summer, you know that we have the ability to bring those visitors back.”