Tourist season starts strong

Local businesses see up to 20% increase over last year

Judging by the activity over Memorial Day weekend, Lakes Region tourism officials are predicting a strong summer season, boosted by a number of new attractions as well as the loyalty of return visitors.
Amy Landers of the Lakes Region Tourism Association said businesses are reporting increases between 1 and 20 percent from a year ago, with lodging establishments averaging 97 percent occupancy over the three days.
Even with the cool, rainy weather on Monday, inside businesses made up for the drop in outside activity, Landers said. “They just did other things than they were planning to do,” she said.
Traffic counts were extremely high throughout the weekend, with people visiting family and friends or attending weddings, graduations and concerts. The four Zac Brown concerts at the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion in Gilford were sold out every night, and Karmen Gifford, of the Laconia Chamber of Commerce, said many people attended more than one concert, which meant they needed overnight lodging.
“I think we lucked out with the weather,” Gifford said. “All those I’ve spoken with had a great weekend. Boats are in the water, and the businesses were busy, especially the restaurants.”
She said the Winnipesaukee Fishing Derby served as a good lead-in for the weekend, as well, attracting a thousand contestants.
Susan Cerutti of the Meredith Area Chamber of Commerce, representing the towns at the northern end of Lake Winnipesaukee, as well as Squam, echoed the observations of her colleagues.
Meredith had its 26th annual craft fair at Mill Falls Marketplace, and Cerutti said the festival has a loyal following. “It’s very helpful to all the stores on Main Street and in the Marketplace,” she said, “as well as the restaurants.”
Cerutti also noted the number of boats on the lakes and said Holderness marinas were reporting lots of last-minute boat rentals in addition to those who had made reservations. Camper traffic also was up, Gifford said.
Landers’ statistics show visitors were here from Boston and southern New Hampshire, as well as other parts of Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Maine, and Connecticut. While there were some Canadian visitors, Landers said Memorial Day is not a big weekend for our neighbors to the north.
Gifford, however, said she has received a lot of calls from Canadians interested in coming here this summer. “The exchange rate for the dollar is better for us going there,” she said, “but we have a better price on petrol down here, so there’s not a problem with Canadians coming here to visit.”
The United Kingdom also generates a lot of traffic on the Laconia chamber’s website, Gifford said. “Canada and the UK are the ones we draw from the most,” she said of foreign visitors.
Landers said her organization markets the state in Canada and Europe, as well as other overseas markets. She noted that TIA, the Travel Industry of America, will hold its three-day IPW trade show in Washington, D.C., next week, and the Lakes Region Tourism Association will be there. “We have one-on-one appointments with tour operators from all over the world,” she said.
Gifford said she already has been receiving inquiries about Motorcycle Week.
“People are struggling to find places to stay,” she said. “Proctor’s was full for Memorial Day weeks before the weekend came.”
“There’s a lot going on in the Lakes Region,” Landers said, pointing to Gunstock’s growth with the addition of its Mountain Coaster, as well as the expansion of businesses and restaurants at the Winnipesaukee Pier at Weirs Beach. Polar Caves in Plymouth has made major renovations and added new attractions; the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad has partnered with the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center and will be offering a new train and cruise package; and other businesses are adding new attractions, she said.
Gifford noted that The Naswa has a full summer of special activities planned, including this weekend’s third annual Naz AquaMania with “boats, water toys, music and food” as the attraction.
Cerutti also said the summer is looking very promising. “We’re getting a lot of requests for wedding information, and we’re starting to receive inquiries from the Midwest for the fall, much earlier than usual. The chamber is working on our 38th annual arts and crafts festival for the end of August, and the Sculpture Walk is a huge draw — that is definitely bringing people to Meredith. The good thing is it’s something people walk around to do, and that gets them out around the town.”
Discussing the cool, rainy weather that has been so prevalent this spring, Gifford said it has not been a deterrent to golfers, with the golf courses in great shape. “They’re doing very well, even with the rain, and it’s not affecting the fairways,” she said.
“I’m excited about the summer,” Gifford said. “I think our biggest challenge is making sure employers have the staffing they need. The visitors are there; that’s increasing.”