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Cautious optimism for tourism in summer of 2009

May 13, 2009
LAKES REGION — As the weather warms up, many businesses in the Lakes Region are looking ahead to their summer season and are cautiously optimistic that slower sales in certain areas will pick up as tourists and seasonal residents begin to arrive.

While thousands of tourists travel to the Lakes Region in the summer months, reports from some in the area note that sales are a little slower this year. People are waiting later to book reservations at inns and for rentals, according to data from Lakes Region Association Executive Director Amy Landers.

Landers pointed out that during the last few years, people plan and book their vacations later than ever, an average of a two to four weeks before they intend to travel. Landers said that the association is adjusting their own advertising to compensate for this, and taking in data from association members.

"Most of the association's members are optimistic about the upcoming summer season. We are getting a variety of responses about bookings to date," said Landers. "Some lodging and rental properties are reporting their prebookings are up over last year at this time and others are reporting slightly down. Everyone is aware of the current trends and are positive about the season ahead."

Over in Center Harbor, Joan Dole, owner of Strictly Rentals, Inc., reported that she was seeing a similar delay from tourists in booking reservations. Dole noted that her rentals were down "about 20 percent," but remained optimistic about last-minute tourists taking advantage of the available rentals.

"A lot of people are waiting to see what's going on in their own lives," said Dole.

Years ago, most of her rentals were reserved for people taking month-long vacations. Nowadays, Dole said, most people reserving rentals want to stay for a week or two.

Several innkeepers, too, reported some lower than normal bookings, but remained hopeful about the season.

Gail Batstone of Mill Falls Inn and Spa in Meredith said that the month of May would be "very strong," due to the inn's appeal to tourists, meeting and wedding guests, shoppers, and spa-goers. Beyond that, Batstone noted, sales were "slightly off-pace," but that the inns were hopeful about gaining business from people who decide to vacation more locally this summer, rather than overseas.

Dr. Sheryl Ollie, innkeeper of the Black Swan Inn in Tilton, expressed similar sentiments about more local tourism.

"I'm optimistic about the season, especially with the pandemic," joked Ollie. "People will want to get in their car and drive rather than take a plane. The season is off so far, but winter is always hit or miss. We're starting to get calls from Canada, especially from people who don't want to travel quite so far. People are coming back again."

Still, some of the events and attractions that draw tourists saw a decline in attendance during the past few years. The M/S Mount Washington, the popular tour ship that ferries visitors across Lake Winnipesaukee, announced that it had curtailed planned visits to its Meredith dock.

"We've scaled back our schedule until the economy turns around," said M/S Mount Washington Captain Jim Morash, in an interview from last month. "I think people understand the expense of running the Mount. Fuel prices were volatile for a while, but they've settled down. The economy is still a big question mark."

It's early in the season for reservations and charters, but Morash said that orders so far "are like any other spring." A determining factor in the season's success will be the weather, he added.

The M/S Mount Washington will concentrate mainly on its other ports of call in Weirs Beach, Wolfeboro, and Alton Bay. Morash noted that although the Mount would not be visiting Meredith on a regular basis, the M/V Doris E. would be visiting Meredith four times daily, from June 27 to Sept. 12, offering one and two-hour tours.

Morash said he also hoped that anyone who had hoped to sail out of Meredith on the M/S Mount Washington would drive down Route 3 to sail out of the Weirs Beach dock.

Another major draw for tourism is the Laconia Motorcycle Week festivities that radiate outward from Weirs Beach.

"So far, we're expecting about the same as last year," said Laconia Motorcycle Week Director Jennifer Anderson. "We're hoping that we get a greater attendance than there has been at the other rallies. If we can avoid a large drop, that's the best-case scenario."

Anderson reported that Laconia had gotten a lot of calls from people looking for information about vending, as had the Laconia Motorcycle Association. She noted that many of those asking about vending opportunities were trying it out for the first time.

Though sales are down in several areas, Landers pointed out that in Lakes Region tourism, there were signs of growth, in the types of tourists taking an interest. She said that tourism from families with children, and grandparents traveling with grandchildren "continues to grow."

Landers also reported that many association members reported strong April sales, "which is a change from previous years." She attributed it to the desire of many to get out and enjoy the warmer weather and the Lakes Region outdoors.

"New Hampshire provides so much for people," said Ollie. "Nature is a living force, and there are a lot of small, intimate places to stay. I'm very optimistic that this will be a good season for us nature doesn't cost anything."

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