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Despite challenges, many enjoyed summer anyway


August 26, 2009
WOODSTOCK—Given the economy and the weather, this summer was a bit like a roller coaster ride, with lots of ups and downs, but now that it's winding down and folks are taking stock, they're surprised.

"The summer started off good," said Jayne O'Connor, president of White Mountains Attractions in North Woodstock, which markets 16 tourist venues in the region. "It went downhill with the rain last month, but with the good summer weather, we're back to normal numbers."

Speaking a little over a week ago, she said that if the weather holds through the month, "We'll come out as good as last year."

Aside from the weather, there were concerns that with the uncertain economy, people would be reluctant to take vacations, but that wasn't the case.

"It really didn't hurt us because our area is very close to our market" of southern New Hampshire, Massachusetts and southern New England, O'Connor noted.

Barbara Ashley, executive director of the Franconia Notch Chamber of Commerce, also mans the welcome center in downtown Franconia.

"In May, June and July, traffic at the welcome center was way up, in spite of the weather," she said. "More people came in looking to go camping and if they were looking for lodging, they wanted to know who had the cheapest rates or a coupon."

At Lost River Gorge and Boulder Caves in Kinsman Notch, manager Deb Williams, said visitors tended to be from close-by locations in July and from further afield so far this month.

"This month we are seeing people from points further away," she said. "Pennsylvania was about the furthest south we had seen until the past couple of weeks when we've seen people from further west, like Indiana and Ohio."

The trends she noticed were that "more people brought picnic lunches and gift sales were down."

Both Williams and Ashley noticed that a lot of travelers were made up of extended families and were careful about how they spent their time and money.

"This was the first year that weather played a huge part in making decisions," Williams said. "It doesn't usually matter in the summer, but I think with the economy, too, people were really choosy."

Cort Roussel, owner/broker of Franconia Vacation Rental and Realty, said his number of guests this year was comparable to last year.

"Summer's been a challenge, however we are managing reasonably well," he said. "June reservation and dollar volume where down considerably from (2008). In July, we came out just ahead of 08 and August is too early to call."

Bookings were not typically made well ahead of time.

"Last minute, last minute, last minute—our bookings are coming closer to arrival date than ever," he said. "Walk-ins used to be rare in vacation rentals, and now not so much. Where we need to prepare and arrange so much for each reservation to ensure guest comfort and owner satisfaction we are now having to do it all at once. It's added to the stress with the result being longer hours, and fewer days off than normal, however we're happy to be busy."

He said guests, in spite of the crazy weather that played out some weeks, "are enjoying their time in the White Mountains all the same, except this year they've had some got great waterfalls for them to check out."

Since they rent a fully furnished home, he said, "the rainy days aren't so bad because there's plenty of room for everyone to spread out and relax."

Ashley attributed the rise in visits and inquiries not only to the chamber's new Web site, but also this summer's I Love it Here promotion by the state's Division of Travel and Tourism.

In that program, visitors were given postcards with I Love it Here and encouraged to snap their photos holding it in front of New Hampshire attractions and landmarks.

"We went through those cards unbelievably," she said, "and we really did find out how important it is to have a good Web site and marketing. That was huge for people who came here and had been to the Web site."

The site, launched in December and funded in part with a $20,000 grant, also had the capability to be translated in several languages, including French and Chinese, which, she said, came in handy.

As the summer winds down—school begins this week or next week in many areas—Ashley said she is now seeing and hearing from people who want to get in some sort of getaway.

"Now, we're inundated with people who all of a sudden are at the end of the season and really want to load the adventures on," she said.

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