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Tourism statewide is up, but not locally

Tourists visit the Mayflower, in Plymouth. The town’s waterfront and Plimoth Plantation drive a significant part of the region’s tourism. Tourists visit the Mayflower, in Plymouth. The town’s waterfront and Plimoth Plantation drive a significant part of the region’s tourism. (Tom Herde/Globe staff file)
By Jennette Barnes
Globe Correspondent / August 9, 2012
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The lodging industry is doing well in Massachusetts this year, but midway through the summer tourist season, some attractions south of Boston report attendance has risen only slightly or remained stagnant since the recession.

According to the state tourism office, business is up 14 percent at hotels and other accommodations in Bristol County so far this year compared with last year. Bristol County outperformed a statewide increase of 12 percent; Plymouth County is up 10 percent.

The numbers come from Department of Revenue lodging data, which are widely used to measure the health of the tourism industry, according to Betsy Wall, executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism.

“Anecdotally, what we’re hearing from businesses is it’s been a strong year, especially May and June,” across the state, she said. For July, some companies reported great results, while others said the month did not meet their expectations.

Local operators said attendance at some of the region’s destinations has risen only slightly or been flat.

“Boy, that’s been a challenge,” said Philip Scudder of Hy-Line Cruises, operator of Cape Cod Canal cruises, which leave from Wareham’s Onset Village. The canal cruise has experienced about three years of depressed numbers, and attendance for 2012 is essentially the same as last year, he said.

Hy-Line’s other cruises out of Hyannis have fared better on some routes but not all. Wareham, by comparison, is “off the beaten track, and it’s not Cape Cod,” which may make the recovery more difficult, he said.

The company has tried marketing through social media and by creating package deals with restaurants. Trips that have bands on board are doing better than the narrated tours.

“It’s a beautiful trip,” Scudder said. “It’s calm water. There are a lot of interesting things to see, and you learn a little history.”

Another seafaring attraction, whale watching on the Capt. John Boats out of Plymouth, has seen attendance rise slightly over last year, but things still have not returned to their pre-recession glory, according to manager Joseph Huckemeyer.

“There’s a saying in business lately, that ‘even’ is the new ‘up,’ ” he said. Just holding ground is considered an acceptable trend, and if companies see a slight increase, they’re happy, he said.

Whale watching makes up about 75 percent of Capt. John’s cruise business, and fishing charters make up 25 percent. The fishing portion of the business has not risen. Huckemeyer cited the dampening effect of “bad publicity” about regulations that limit the size and number of fish that people can keep.

The whale watches, meanwhile, do well when whale sightings have been good. For the last few weeks, visitors have seen many whales on Stellwagen Bank, which not only makes for good viewing but gives the boats more time with the whales, because Stellwagen is closer than other prime sighting spots.

Farther north, in Norfolk County, the city of Quincy has seen a modest increase in visitors this year compared with 2011, according to the Quincy Chamber of Commerce. Donna Mavromates, the chamber’s vice president and director of tourism, did not provide data but said tourism is “up, probably from May on.” The season starts in the spring when the historic Adams and Quincy family homes open.

The city’s number one attraction is the Adams National Historical Park, which got a boost following the 2008 HBO television miniseries about the life of John Adams, she said. Visitors also go to the United First Parish Church, which holds the tombs of Adams, his son John Quincy Adams, and their wives.

A small increase in beachgoers at Quincy’s Wollaston Beach can be attributed to the improvement of water quality over the last five years, she said. Boating and swimming are popular, and people kayak and paddle-board from the beach as well.

“In general, people are traveling again,” Mavromates said, because they feel better about the economy. “While we’re definitely not out of the woods, I think the feeling is that it’s OK . . . and things aren’t going to crash and burn.”

Wall said the state tourism office defines a visitor as someone who travels more than 50 miles or stays overnight. Massachusetts welcomes more than 20 million visitors a year, 33 percent of whom live in the state.

Statewide, tourism returned to prerecession levels more than a year ago, Wall said.

She suggested Bristol County’s rise in lodging could be the result of a new waterfront hotel in New Bedford, the Fairfield Inn and Suites, which opened in 2010. The city’s first downtown hotel in decades, it overlooks commercial fishing boats docked at the piers.

“That’s an important factor,” she said. “That filled a gap.”

The Plymouth waterfront and Plimouth Plantation drive a significant portion of tourism in Plymouth County. Plymouth’s preparations for its 400th anniversary will enhance its appeal, she said, and the town of Pembroke is commemorating its 300th this year.

In Duxbury, at the Art Complex Museum, staff member Mary Curran said attendance did not drop much during the recession, but it does not seem to be growing, either. The museum draws people interested in art, Shaker furniture, and its Japanese tea ceremonies and concerts.

The weather affects many of the region’s summer pursuits. The season started off well, but scattered thunderstorms hampered some activities in the last few weeks.

Despite a few raindrops, tourism produces jobs — ones that cannot be outsourced — and represents one of the national economy’s stronger comeback stories, Wall said.

Jennette Barnes can be reached at

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