Saturday, December 7, 2013
Peter Greene, his son Harry, 8, of Portland, and their friend Christine Byrne of Cumberland ride the Tornado on Friday at Funtown Splashtown USA, which saw an increase in tourists from Canada and southern New England this summer.
Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer
Visitors enjoy Eagle Lake at Acadia National Park, which saw a 17.6 percent jump in visits in May and a nearly 4 percent jump in June compared with a year earlier, then a dip in July.
2005 AP file
THE STORY IN NUMBERS
TRAFFIC: Volume through the York Toll Plaza rose 1.3 percent from May through July over last year
LODGING SALES: Up 7 percent in May; up 14.7 percent in June
RESTAURANT SALES: Up 7.1 percent in May; up 7.6 percent in June
ACADIA NATIONAL PARK VISITS: Up 17.6 percent in May; up 3.9 percent in June; down 3.6 percent in July
VISITOR GUIDES: Online requests rose 16 percent over last year
38 ships carrying more than 20,000 passengers expected in September and October
The summer season remains crucial for the state's $7.7 billion annual tourism industry, but the leaf-peeping season has become the biggest money-maker for hotels and restaurants.
"It's the biggest change we've seen in 20 years -- Columbus Day weekend is the biggest holiday of the year," said Dick Grotton, president and chief executive of the Maine Restaurant Association. "A lot of retirees wait for the summer crowds to leave and vacation in the fall. We'll have hundreds of bus tours bringing in business. It's really very, very huge for us."
The leaf-peeping bus tours create a "mob scene" for stores in the Old Port, such as Shipwreck & Cargo on Commercial Street, said owner Brewster Harding. But once mid-October passes, sales for the year fall off.
"We have to make our money from mid-May to mid-October. The season's pretty much over by October 20," Harding said.
Businesses should be happy with this year's leaf display. Mother Nature has been cooperating, setting up Maine for the best leaf peeping in years after several seasons of mediocre color displays because of poor weather conditions, said Gale Ross, Maine foliage spokeswoman.
"We should have a better-than-average foliage season. It will be the first year in quite some time we've had nearly normal conditions," Ross said. "The warm days and cool nights will help the leaves along over the next few weeks."
The first color showcase should peak in northern Maine toward the last week in September, followed by western, southern and central regions during the week of the Columbus Day weekend and into the next week. The coast of Maine is the last region to peak, Ross said.
"Once we start getting toward peak conditions, we don't want any tropical storms," Ross said. "Last year, Hurricane Irene blew the leaves off trees and really dampened the leaf-peeper season."
The fall also marks the busiest time for cruise ships along the coast. A total of 38 ships with a capacity of more than 20,000 passengers will enter Portland in September and October, according to the Port of Portland. Cruise passengers tend to be big spenders on souvenirs and Maine-made products, but are less likely to eat in local restaurants because they have meals on the boat, local business owners said.
"Now through the holidays is when we're the busiest. Fall is stronger than Christmas, actually," said Steve Anderson, manager of Edgecomb Potters Gallery on Exchange Street. "This is our profit margin for the year -- these few months."
Anderson said that although cruise ships do bring in spenders, the store tends to do best with Amtrak travelers who come for the day from Boston. The day-trippers come to spend and they visit throughout the year, rather just in the peak tourist season, he said.
A vibrant fall foliage season follows great summer conditions for travelers and locals alike. Maine had early warm temperatures in the spring and a normal to slightly warmer-than-normal summer, said Chris LeGrow, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. That compared favorably with the scorching temperatures that stifled Boston, New York and Philadelphia and sent tourists heading north for the more temperate climate.
"You can't minimize the fact that weather was in our favor this year. It was nice here and very hot in the metro areas that feed us," said Greg Dugal, executive director of the Maine Innkeepers Association.
From May through the end of July, traffic at the York toll plaza was up 1.3 percent over last year, said Charles Colgan, professor of public policy and management at the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine. "Both May and June were up, but July was soft," Colgan said.
(Continued on page 2)
click image to enlarge
From May through the end of July, traffic at the York toll plaza was up 1.3 percent over last year, an official said.
Gordon Chibroski/2012 Press Herald file