Beachgoers crowd Old Orchard Beach near the pier on Tuesday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Old Orchard Beach on Tuesday afternoon was classic summer. Beachgoers lounged on towels under umbrellas, flanking the town’s ocean pier. Hundreds of tourists strolled the main drag, browsing t-shirt and swimwear shops and waiting in line for pizza, French fries and ice cream.

But the hive of activity may obscure a slower summer tourism season than many expected in Maine. Based on early numbers, hotel occupancy is down and so is traffic on the Maine Turnpike compared to prior years.

Jerome Fountaine and Isabelle Tremblay were relaxing by the pier entrance Tuesday afternoon. The couple, from Stoneham, Quebec, were glad to be back on the Maine coast after a two-year hiatus forced by pandemic border closures and travel restrictions.

“We came every year for 10 years,” Fountaine said. The couple, accompanied by their children and a grandparent, didn’t mind spending money on gas or food, which is still cheaper here than in Canada. The higher lodging expense, however, convinced them to shorten their stay.

“We usually stay for seven days,” Fountaine said. “Now we’ll stay five days because of the price of the hotel room.”

Up the street at The Dunes gift shop, owner Terrie Sarette said business has been steady, even after a slow start to the season. Canadian tourists are back this year and that seems to be making a difference, Sarette said.


“There’s a lot more foot traffic,” she said. After two decades in business, she’s seen a lot of ups and downs, and nothing could be worse than the last two pandemic-tinged years. “Some years are better than others,” Sarette said.

The blockbuster summer season some were expecting may be dulled by inflated gas and other prices and general economic uncertainty. With Maine’s busiest summer tourism weeks still ahead, firm conclusions about the impact on one of Maine’s largest industries are premature.

“There is no strong answer. It is not amazing, it is not dismal, it is kind of seeing mixed results right now,” said Maine Tourism Association CEO Tony Cameron.

People visit the pier at Old Orchard Beach on Tuesday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Earlier this year interest in travel was still huge and many expected the same flood of tourists that stretched understaffed businesses across the state last year. But surging food, fuel and other costs during winter and spring changed some travelers’ calculations, Cameron said.

“Gas prices, inflation have absolutely played a role in travel decision-making and what they are going to spend when they are here,” he added. Some predicted at the beginning of the season that travelers would still come to Maine, but pull back on spending or shorten their trips.

Even with a little pullback, there is no reason to think the season will be a complete bust, Cameron said.


Traffic on the turnpike – a reliable gauge of tourism – through June was slightly lower than the same period last year and 3.5 percent below 2019, a record-breaking year. But with gas prices starting to drop, the Maine Turnpike Authority expects a rebound, especially coming into the first week of August, the busiest week of the year on the highway.

“Really August will determine if the summer is positive or not. Right now it is trending slightly down, a little less than one percent off last year,” said turnpike spokesperson Erin Courtney.

So far, Maine hotels have seen fewer guests than in recent years too. In the first two weeks of July, statewide hotel occupancy stood at 75 percent – almost three points lower than at the same time in 2021 and just below the occupancy rate three years ago, according to data from STR, a travel research firm.

David Dyer of Gray tries to win a prize for his niece, Rozzie Clark, 7, of Bellingham, WA, during a visit to Old Orchard Beach on Tuesday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Still, hotel occupancy in Maine was higher than the New England average of 73 percent and national average of 68 percent. The average daily room rate in Maine climbed to $259 this month, and the daily revenue per room hit $195, both up 50 percent from three years ago, STR reported.

“From a visitation point of view, we expect 2022 to be on pace or possibly beat 2021, but we are hearing some members say well, occupancy is down a little bit but the average rate is up,” said Hospitality Maine President Matt Lewis.

Despite the slight slowdown, Maine hospitality businesses are still busy, he added. Many have been able to find enough staff to run operations more efficiently, avoiding the long waits and disruptions some patrons experienced last year.


“I think some of the rough patches we had last year might have eased a little bit,” Lewis said.

Jennifer Sylvain of Kingston, NH walks in Old Orchard Beach with her dog, Charlie, on Tuesday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Back in Old Orchard Beach, Jennifer and Richard Sylvain were enjoying a bright, sunny afternoon Tuesday. The Kingston, New Hampshire, the couple visit Maine most years to spend time with friends in the area.

Sure, gas prices are higher and things are a little more expensive, but that doesn’t stop them from traveling, eating in restaurants and having fun, said Jennifer Sylvain. She’s still working and her husband is retired, so they feel comfortable enough to spend a little.

“We work hard and we play hard, I don’t feel guilty about it,” she said.

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