Gov. Chris Sununu spoke at the start of the M/S Mount Washington shakedown cruise last Thursday, May 3. The cruise marked the start of the New Hampshire tourist season promotion by the Division of Travel and Tourism. (Photo by Thomas Beeler) (click for larger version)
May 16, 2018CENTER HARBOR — Last Thursday, the M/S Mount Washington held its first shakedown cruise in several years, taking an hour cruise out of The Weirs to The Broads and back, returning just in time to avoid a spring rainstorm.
Until 2010, the Mount Washington held a special cruise as soon as Ice Out, the date when ice has cleared off Lake Winnipesaukee enough to allow the cruise ship to reach all of its five ports (Meredith, Center Harbor, Wolfeboro, Alton and The Weirs). This year, ice-out was declared on Thursday, April 26, at 5:40 p.m.
The purpose of the cruise was to make sure its WWII-vintage engines were working properly after six months of storage at Center Harbor, according to Capt. Jim Morash. After the engines were replaced in 2010, such cruises were no longer necessary.
Addressing passengers before the cruise began, Morash gave credit for reviving the annual cruise to Gov. Chris Sununu, who wanted it to mark the beginning of the tourist and boating season in New Hampshire. The cruise this year included not only state officials and area selectmen – as in the earlier shakedown cruises – but also leaders of the state's tourism industry.
Sununu himself was present to announce officially the start of the tourism season, introduce the key members of the new Department of Business and Economic Affairs, and to emphasize that increasing tourism is a major focus of his state economic development plan. He also stressed that bringing more tourists into the northern half of the state was a key goal. As the manager of Waterville Valley, he felt that the state should do more to increase the flow of visitors to the lakes and White Mountains, and his goal was to focus the state's development efforts on that.
Following the governor, Taylor Caswell of Hollis spoke. He is the first Commissioner of the Department of Business and Economic Affairs. Victoria Cimino, director of Travel and Tourism, also spoke.
The Department was formed last year by Gov. Sununu by separating out the divisions of Economic Development and Travel and Tourism from the Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED). (The other two divisions of DRED, Forest and Lands and Parks and Recreation, were merged with the Division of Cultural Resources to form the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.)
Cimino said "summer is the perfect time to explore northern New Hampshire" and tourism, second largest industry in the state, is enjoying a surge of interest and visitors. She said room & meals tax revenues were up $12 million or 5 percent this year. This year 3.4 million visitors are expected to spend nearly $2 billion in the state, she said, and all signs point to a record-breaking summer, aided by an advertising campaign that starts on May 7. The campaign will include television commercials and billboards as well as social media. Spending on the campaign will be up 17 percent. All expenditure decisions will be based on data, Cimino concluded.
Executive Councilor Joe Kenney, who represents the northern half of the state on the five-member council, spoke from personal experience speaking with his constituents of the importance of tourism to the North Country.
Amy Landers, executive director of the Lakes Region Tourism Association, reported 335,000 more visitors, a 2.77 percent increase. Memorial Day weekend (May 25-27), is expected to draw 650,000 out-of-state travelers and generate more than $120 million in spending. Landers said that 10,000 people are employed in tourism in the Lakes Region.
She then pointed out the large number of attractions in the state that draw visitors, including Wolfeboro's Wright Museum and Tamworth's Remick Country Doctor Museum and Farm. This year the White Mountain National Forest will celebrate its 100th anniversary and the town of Meredith will celebrate its 250th.
Landers said her association has also seen an increase in destination weddings and family get-togethers.
Before the cruise got underway, Morash took the opportunity to honor Capt. Bruce Campbell, who retired in 2017 after serving Mount Washington Cruises in a wide range of capacities since 1969.
"Bruce held just about every position on the boat," Morash said before presenting him with a plaque and large watch.
During the cruise, Sununu made himself available for questions and suggestions and even took the wheel of the ship briefly (under the close supervision on Capt. Morash) when it reached The Broads, before turning around and returning to The Weirs.