Europeans first settled in the city that would become Charleston over 350 years ago. Charleston’s rich history is one of the drivers of its thriving tourism sector, which tallied 7.68 million visitors in 2022. In the hospitality industry, Charleston continues to make history, while local initiatives are also making strides to preserve it.
Demand Peaks & Historic Milestones
The global renown of Charleston as a tourist destination continued in 2023 with its rank as the #1 city in the United States for the eleventh year in a row, according to Travel + Leisure readers. In 2023, Charleston gained a spot among Travel + Leisure’s list of the top 20 destinations in the world. Moreover, in the past five years, several Charleston Historic District hotels have been recognized on the World’s Best lists, including Wentworth Mansion, The Loutrel, The Spectator Hotel, and Planters Inn.
With reputation comes demand. According to the College of Charleston’s Office of Tourism Analysis, the total number of room nights sold in the greater Charleston area in 2022 was 4.8 million, which represents a 7.5% increase over the prior year and a 3.9% increase over 2019, the last peak year. According to data collected by STR, in the year-to-date 2023 period through September, the number of room nights sold in Charleston County was nearly 2% above the same period of 2022. The outlook remains positive amid these soaring city-visitation metrics. Meanwhile, passenger traffic at the Charleston International Airport surpassed five million for the first time ever in 2022, and the year-to-date September 2023 passenger traffic is approximately 16% above the passenger traffic in the comparable 2022 period. Decidedly, 2022 was the best year for tourism and travel in the market’s history, as illustrated on the chart below, and 2023 is poised to be a banner year as well.
Estimated Total Number of Visitors to Charleston (Millions)
Some recent expansions in Charleston are making history, while others are celebrating it. The Charleston Harbor achieved a milestone in December 2022 by becoming the deepest harbor on the East Coast following a years-long dredging project. Additionally, the new International African American Museum opened in July 2023 on the eastern edge of the Historic Downtown. The museum in particular represents an important convergence of history and tourism.