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Zachary Orton of Yarmouth made extra money advertising a weekend sale in Bourne, as cars left Cape Cod for the season.
Zachary Orton of Yarmouth made extra money advertising a weekend sale in Bourne, as cars left Cape Cod for the season. (Michele McDonald/ Globe Staff)

The summer of their discontent

On the Cape and Islands, resort operators rue a generally mediocre season

HYANNIS -- It has been a summer of bad tidings for Cape Cod tourism: record rains, Portuguese man-of-war sightings, and high gas prices. As Labor Day yesterday marked the traditional end of the high season, merchants and hotel operators were reporting lackluster trade this summer on the Cape and the Islands.

Overall, ``2006 has not been a banner year," said Richard Neitz , vice chairman of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce's board of directors. ``May and June were wet, July was good, and August was better. It's been up and down."

The Labor Day exodus out of the state's beach vacation spots yielded the requisite traffic jams yesterday.

A fatal accident in Yarmouth in the morning snarled traffic in the area, police said, though it had cleared by last night's crush of returning traffic. Elsewhere, a rollover on the Massachusetts Turnpike near the Weston-Natick line created an afternoon snarl for westbound drivers, and slowed eastbound traffic.

Drivers leaving Cape Cod, however, could take some heart as they crossed the Sagamore Bridge: The much-hated rotary will be no more, come next summer.

Construction of a flyover project, which will replace the traffic circle with a grade-separated interchange, is expected to be completed by May.

``I won't miss the rotary. I don't think anyone will miss the rotary," said J. Baggs , a 25-year resident of Sandwich. ``It's an accident waiting to happen."

Tourism in the state's top summer vacation spots has been struggling to rebound from slowdowns since Sept. 11, 2001.

Industry officials say that 2005, so far, has been the best year since the terror attacks. This year's tourism revenues are on target to match 2005, but they are not expected to best it.

A few numbers tell part of the story on the Cape and the Islands:

The Steamship Authority carried 1.29 million passengers to Martha's Vineyard from Jan. 1 to Aug. 14, down by 353 from the same time last year; it carried 309,884 passengers to Nantucket this year, down by 2,505 from same time last year, according to data provided by the Authority.

Daily traffic for the Bourne and Sagamore bridges was 111,224 vehicles in June, a drop of nearly 4 percent from June 2005; it was 124,431 in July, a decrease of 3 percent from July 2005, according to Chamber of Commerce figures.

There were some bright spots. Visitors to the Cape Cod National Seashore increased: The June figure was 31,654, up 14 percent from last year, and July saw 53,763 visitors, an increase of 17 percent from last year. Visitors to the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum increased by 1 percent.

The mediocre Cape numbers contrasted with those in the state as a whole. Figures released last week said that occupancy rates for June and July were up 3.2 percent, according to Massachusetts tourism officials.

For the year through July, state lodging revenues were up 14.2 percent, according to Paul J. Sacco, executive director of the state's tourism office.

Most hurtful to tourism this year, Cape business owners agreed, was the rain. May and June, which was the wettest two-month period in Boston since record-keeping began in 1872, were also dreary on the Cape. Then, man-of-wars began appearing along beaches in late June, earlier than usual. Through July, the jelly fish-like animals vexed swimmers, prompting the closure of beaches in Falmouth and on Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.

High gas prices probably deterred some visitors from traveling to the Cape or the Berkshires, tourism officials said.

But the price spike also drew visitors who might have traveled to more far-flung destinations.

``Gas prices helped us," said Wendy Northcross , chief executive officer of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce. ``People know Cape Cod because we are so well-branded," she said. ``They remembered us and didn't go so far away."

Some business owners are holding out hope that September -- an increasingly busy month for hotels, restaurants, and attractions -- will help balance the dismal months of May and June. The Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce is running an ad campaign showing an empty beach with the words: ``Psssst. The Coast Is Clear."

By last evening, no major traffic problems were reported.

The fatal accident in Yarmouth occurred on East Main Street at approximately 8:25 a.m. yesterday. Yarmouth police reported that Jose Carlos DaSilva, 51, of Hyannis, died when the 1997 Ford F250 pickup truck he was driving crashed into a vehicle exiting Christy's Market.

His truck then slammed into a utility pole. No one else was injured in the crash.

Sarah Schweitzer reported from Boston, Adrienne Samuels from Hyannis.