After Irene, a sunnier outlook
State, businesses call on tourists to return to fun
As the Labor Day weekend approached, Massachusetts tourism officials from Brewster to the Berkshires were looking up and giving thanks.
A week ago, visitors cut their vacations short in anticipation of Tropical Storm Irene’s winds and rain, leaving hotels, restaurants, and attractions empty in summer’s waning days.
Yesterday’s clear skies sent a different message - one that businesses hope will help them recoup some of the money flushed away because of the storm.
“The greatest marketing device in the world is sunny weather,’’ said Bill Zammer, owner of the Coonamessett Inn and Red Horse Inn in Falmouth, which are both booked to capacity this weekend.
Zammer also owns The Flying Bridge restaurant in Falmouth, which lost power Sunday into Monday. Between the blackout and a drop in traffic at Coonamessett, Zammer said, he was out about $100,000.
Other Cape Cod businesses that heavily rely on summer vacation revenue faced similar scenarios. Between last Aug. 24 and Tuesday, tourism activity was down by about two-thirds, said Wendy Northcross, chief executive of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce. “We were having a very good season, having great weather. It was almost back to pre-recessionary levels, then Mother Nature exerted her will.’’
Now, tourism officials are hoping the much-improved weather will bring back the crowds for this crucial weekend. Although some residents remained without electricity yesterday, the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism was promoting a sunnier message, on a mission to salvage the holiday.
“The storm has come and gone,’’ said Betsy Wall, the office’s executive director. “Summer is not over, there are still a lot of things to do in Massachusetts.’’
In an effort to dull memories of Irene, the state bought $50,000 in radio and online advertising to promote vacation activities in Massachusetts. A banner at the top of the travel and tourism office’s website, Massvacation.com, reads: “Labor Day weekend is here so get your fun on!’’
And after a week that many people spent cleaning up and drying out, officials are counting on spontaneity to further boost business.
“We’d like to remind people that last-minute is good,’’ said Wall.
Resort and restaurant owners also are offering discounts and other promotions in an effort to attract crowds over the weekend.
Bill Catania is running a post-Irene package that features up to 30 percent off rooms and meal vouchers at his Cape Codder Resort & Spa in Hyannis, Dan’l Wesbster Inn & Spa in Sandwich, and John Carver Inn & Spa in Plymouth.
“I’m hoping that when people realize there was no damage they’ll come back,’’ said Catania, who also owns the Hearth n’ Kettle restaurants. “And if they don’t have power, they should come because we have power now.’’ Catania can identify with people who went without electricity because of the storm - power was out at the Orleans Hearth n’ Kettle for two and a half days.
“Even before the first raindrop fell, we lost $100,000 in sales,’’ Catania said of his businesses. “I’ve probably lost another chunk of business at the beginning of the week; another $100,000.’’
Some businesses reported signs of economic recovery days before the anticipated Labor Day weekend traffic. The Sesuit Harbor House and Motel in East Dennis started the week with 40 percent of its rooms vacant - normally unheard of during the summer - but headed into yesterday just two of its 21 rooms were empty.
“Part of it is the post-Irene last dash - let’s get summer in before it ends - and part of it is good weather,’’ said innkeeper Kim Marchand.
In the western part of the state, Irene’s impact came more from rain than wind.
Berkshire businesses are less reliant on summer visitors than those on Cape Cod because of the fall foliage season, but that doesn’t mean the storm didn’t hurt. For example, the raging Deerfield River - which caused severe flooding in Vermont - cut into Karen Blom’s rafting business, Zoar Outdoor in Charlemont.
She had to cancel a dozen river trips Sunday through yesterday to assess damage to her gear and make sure water levels had receded enough to be safe.
“I’m just thankful it wasn’t earlier in the summer, all those weekends in July and August are big for us,’’ said Blom, who lost a barn filled with helmets, life vests, and paddles and had two vans flooded.
But Blom said all is well now - her company’s rapids rides will be back this weekend.
Further west, Tanglewood is scheduled to end its season with a jazz festival this weekend, after calling off last Sunday’s concert.
Given the widespread power outages, rising waters, and downed trees of less than a week ago, many Massachusetts tourism officials and business owners are happily surprised by the quick return to normalcy - especially in places that depend on visitors being in a mood to spend, not clean up a mess.
“People were expecting that things would be closed, but boats are running on schedule,’’ said Mike Galvin, resource specialist for the Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce. “It’s like nothing ever happened.’’