The Black Point Inn in Scarborough is gearing up for what it hopes will be a good start to a strong 2011 season.

The Memorial Day weekend will be the inn’s busiest period since it opened on Mother’s Day weekend. Bookings look good, thanks in part to an aggressive promotion to encourage visitors to add a third night to their stay.

General Manager Phil Kronenthal is very optimistic about the season, provided the weather cooperates. Returning visitors who book months in advance account for only about one-third of the inn’s business — the rest fills in according to the weather, always the wild card for Maine’s largely drive-to market.

“If the summer turns out like last year, we’ll have a tremendous summer,” Kronenthal said Thursday.

Others in Maine’s tourism industry share Kronenthal’s optimism.

A survey of Maine Tourism Association members indicated that 60 percent expected increased business this year and almost 50 percent anticipated increased profits. The survey by the association and the University of Maine’s Center for Tourism Research and Outreach found that two-thirds reported revenue increases last year compared with 2009, when the economy and bad weather made for a dismal season.

“Most of them are pretty positive about where they think the season will be, and they think they’ll have a better season this year than last year,” said Vaughn Stinson, CEO of the tourism association.

Stinson sees reason for optimism in the increased lodging bookings in Maine during the first quarter of this year, a larger number of planned events such as weddings and family reunions, and the exposure that President Obama’s visit and Ken Burns’ national parks film provided to the Bar Harbor area.

Graduation ceremonies this weekend at Bates College in Lewiston and Bowdoin College in Brunswick are providing a boost to lodging businesses in those areas, said Greg Dugal, executive director of the Maine Innkeepers Association. At hotels and motels elsewhere, it will be a good weekend if half or more of the rooms are filled, he said.

“We do 60 percent of our business in two months — July and August. The months leading up to it are pretty anti-climactic, except for June,” Dugal said.

The 77-room Hampton Inn in Freeport has been nearly sold out for several days, thanks to out-of-state bookings for the Bowdoin graduation.

“We actually have only one room left. It’s a smoking room that nobody wants,” said Garrett Schwindt, a guest services assistant. “I tried to sell it like eight times this morning.”

While the Memorial Day weekend serves as the informal opening of the tourism season, it’ll be awhile before business is in full swing. Children are still in school. And for a good number of out-of-state visitors, this weekend is devoted to preparing camps and summer homes for the season.

The state’s restaurants typically don’t see a big increase until Independence Day, which is followed by a slight dip before business really picks up in mid-July, said Richard Grotton, president and chief executive officer of the Maine Restaurant Association.

“This is the kickoff for several reasons. It’s not that there’s going to be tremendous, humongous traffic in the next four weeks,” he said. “But there’s a lot of work to do to get the properties ready, so when the visitors come in large numbers, they’re ready.”

The big tasks have already been completed at York’s Wild Kingdom, and now it’s a matter of finishing the touch-ups — polishing, painting posts and rails, and sweeping the midways — for the opening this weekend.

“Everybody has cabin fever,” said General Manager Amy Wheeler. “So we’re expecting a busy weekend.”

High gasoline prices are expected to reduce traffic on the Maine Turnpike over the weekend, but with prices falling recently, there is hope that the entire season won’t be severely affected.

A total of 292,000 vehicles are expected to go through the York toll plaza from today through Monday, a decrease of 6 percent from last year, according to a forecast by the Maine Center for Business & Economic Research at the University of Southern Maine. Average gasoline prices in New England this weekend are 12 cents per gallon higher than in 2008, when prices topped $4 a gallon over the summer, said Charles Colgan, an economist with the center.

But turnpike spokesman Scott Tompkins was optimistic, given the 10-cents-per-gallon decrease in the past week. Tompkins said prices are expected to continue to drop.

The weather, at least for this weekend, looks promising. In Portland, Saturday and Sunday high temperatures are expected to be around 60 degrees. There’s a chance of thunderstorms in the late afternoon or early evening Saturday, but things look better Sunday and Monday, which will be warmer, with a high probably around 65.

“It actually looks halfway decent,” said Mike Kistner, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “It looks like we’re finally getting into summer, getting away from that junk we had last week.”

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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