Welcome signs

With gas prices putting a detour in vacation plans, many feel the pull of local attractions

Email|Print| Text size + By Kathy McCabe
Globe Staff / August 20, 2006

Gary and Rebecca Ijam of Watertown pitched their tent under a big oak tree at Cape Ann Campsite, a shady spot on the way to Wingaersheek Beach in Gloucester.

``We wanted to be near the ocean," said Gary Ijam, 62, stretched out in a lawn chair after breakfast. ``We've spent a lot of time exploring the coast of Maine, but this time we thought, `Why go any further than we have to?' "

Michelle and Gaynor Reardon of Gray, Maine, usually go camping on Cape Cod. This year they opted for ``the other Cape," as locals like to call Cape Ann.

``This was far enough," said Gaynor Reardon, 44, piling children and friends into his pickup for a trip to the beach. ``It took us half the time to get here and half the cost of gas."

High gas prices have put a detour in summer vacation plans. With the price per gallon topping $3 in many places, some travelers are sticking closer to home. They're pitching tents, arriving on the new Salem ferry, and checking into hotels, motels, and inns.

``Our biggest pull is drivers," said Sarah Young, tourism manager at the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce, adding that weekend accommodations are up over the last few years.

Hotel room bookings in Essex County increased 7.5 percent in June from 2005. Meanwhile, the average price of a hotel room has gone up 2 percent, to $88 per night. Visits to the Maria Miles Visitor Center in Salisbury, the gateway to tourists from northern New England, is up 11 percent compared with last year, according to the regional tourist board.

``Gas prices are high," said Julie McConchie, executive director of the North of Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau in Peabody. ``But people are still going on vacation. That hasn't changed. They just may be making different choices once they're here."

The optimism is tempered by new challenges to the Bay State's $12.4 billion tourism industry. Big Dig tunnel detours have made it harder for tourists to tool around Greater Boston. A terrorism alert and airline safety measures, prompted by the alleged plot in London to blow up trans-Atlantic jets -- hamper recovery of the lucrative foreign visitor trade.

International visitors, who typically stay longer and spend more than domestic travelers, are a key tourist segment. But the market has declined steadily since the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., statistics for Logan International Airport show.

The number of international passengers dropped 5.4 percent in June, compared with the same month last year. Compared with June 2001, the foreign passenger count has dropped almost 15 percent, according to statistics tracked by the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan Airport.

One Massport official doesn't think that new security steps, including a ban on most liquids in carry-on bags, will hurt in the long run.

``People have adapted," said Michael Cataldo, manager of aviation marketing at Massport. Just in the last couple of days, he said, passengers lines have gotten shorter. ``People seem to know what they can and can't bring on."

In recent years, Massport has worked to stimulate tourism. The agency donates free advertising space in the international arrival terminal to regional tourist councils and nonprofits. A display now touts ``Painting Summer in New England," an exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem.

A new low-fare carrier from Scotland, announced last week by Massport, also could open the door to more travelers from Great Britain, one of the top foreign visitor markets for New England, Cataldo said.

``We recognize the value of international visitors," he said. ``That's why we have so many flights to our larger international markets, including the UK, Germany, and France."

Visitors from Australia, Germany, England, and Wales signed the guest book at the National Park Service Visitor Center in Salem from Aug. 4-12.

On Tuesday, a couple from Great Britain stayed overnight at the Beech Tree Bed & Breakfast in Rockport.

``It was a nice surprise ," co-owner Russ Riddle said at the three-room inn. ``Most of our visitors are from New England. The season started out slow, but things have picked up."

Warren Lindquist, a schoolteacher in suburban Chicago, took the new ferry for a day trip to Salem from Boston.

``It seemed like a good way to get here," said Lindquist, 54, visiting Derby Wharf with his wife and daughter. `` We particularly like that we've been walking around, and haven't had to get into a car and drive anywhere."

And even high gas prices just can't keep some from the open road. The Tomecek family figure they spent $600 on gas to drive their van roundtrip from Chicago to Maine. On the way back, they camped in Gloucester.

``Driving is still cheaper than flying for a family of five," said Sharon Tomecek, the mother in the group.

Stephanie and James Bilyeu, a retired couple from San Diego, pulled their recreational vehicle, which gets just 6 miles per gallon, into Blackbear Campground in Salisbury. The couple, on a cross-country trip, spend about $160 every other day on gas.

``You don't spend $150,000 on an RV and worry about paying $2 or $3 for a gallon of gas," Jim Bilyeu, 66, said outside the House of the Seven Gables in Salem.

``We don't shop for gas; we shop for convenience, to be able to get in and find something that accommodates the motor home."

In Gloucester, the Ijams say they've found a new vacation spot. They strolled Wingaersheek Beach and cruised the Essex River. They liked Cape Ann so much, they've reserved a spot under the shady oak for Labor Day weekend

``I am drawn to the sea," said Rebecca Ijam, 54, who also likes to draw and take pictures. ``The nice thing is, it doesn't take long to get there."

Kathy McCabe can be reached at


What did you do on your summer vacation? Have gas prices, a tighter budget, or worries about terrorism altered your plans? Tell us at Or write us at or Globe North, 1 Corporate Place, 55 Ferncroft Road, Danvers MA 01923.

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