By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — With Columbus Day still a few weeks away, this year's tourist season isn't over yet, but business leaders like what they have seen so far.
Jay Bolduc, general manager of T-Bones Great American Eatery and Cactus Jack's Grill & Watering Hole, said his business has been trending up.
“This was a fantastic year for us,” he said. “Our sales have grown at a pretty steady pace over the last decade.
“This was our 10th summer and the best one yet for sales.”
Bolduc said the heart of the tourist season runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day, although it seems that the busy period has been starting earlier and continuing later.
Statewide tourism numbers have also been trending up, with the Lakes Region contributing greatly, New Hampshire Revenue Commissioner John Beardmore said.
“Meredith, Moultonborough, Laconia, the Squam Lake area – they are an important part of the economy,” he said.
A good way to measure tourism is through the meals and rentals tax, which is assessed on people who stay at hotels, eat in restaurants and rent motor vehicles.
Receipts for August totaled $35.8 million statewide, which is $1 million, or 2.9 percent above the previous year. Year-over-year increases in this category have averaged 5 percent to 6 percent since 2013.
Beardmore said that when he tries to develop an overall picture of the economy, the meals and rental tax and the real estate transfer tax are the two most important barometers.
In Belknap County, there were 2,454 real estate transactions in the 2017 fiscal year, compared to 1,620 in 2011.
“Folks only do those things when they have money to spend,” Beardmore said.
“If they don't have money to spend, they also don't go out to eat.”
“We have pretty high employment numbers and there's also strong employment in other states. People have jobs and they come to visit us and that is reflected in monthly figures.”
The strong employment market cuts both ways. It can also make it hard for some local businesses to find employees, said Karmen Gifford, president of the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce.
“Businesses are struggling to find staff,” she said. “It's a problem across the United States. There are a lot more jobs than people seeking jobs. The hospitality industry has been impacted also by difficulties in getting work visas for international employees.”
Meanwhile, increasing numbers of events and activities seem to be attracting more paying customers to these businesses.
“People go to the lake and swim and boat, but there are also breweries and wineries and a lot more arts and cultural events, with live performances at the Whiskey Barrel, Pitman's Freight Room, the Winnipesaukee Playhouse, even places like the Naswa Resort,” Gifford said.
Gifford also said the Pumpkin Festival, set for Oct. 13-14, will be attracting people to Laconia and the fall foliage will be a draw that will bring visitors to the region late into the year.