State Travel and Tourism officials expect 2.7 percent increase in spending

Business and Economic Affairs Commissioner Taylor Caswell, a Littleton native, chose the town’s pedestrian covered bridge over the Ammonoosuc River as the site on Tuesday, June 18, to deliver good news about the projected growth in this summer’s tourism dollars and number of visitors. (EDITH TUCKER PHOTO)

LITTLETON — Business and Economic Affairs Commissioner Taylor Caswell returned to his hometown on Tuesday, June 18, with the good news that the significant growth is expected over the summer travel season. The BEA is projecting more than 3.6 million overnight visitors to the Granite State with spending nearing $1.9 billion.

Speaking at a podium set up inside the 2014 Riverwalk Covered Bridge that spans the Ammonoosuc River, Caswell noted that tourism is the state’s second-largest revenue generator. “Tourism is absolutely vital to our economy here,” he said. “Summer is our busiest travel season, representing more than 40 percent of our annual visitations.”

He touted the state for offering outstanding “variety within proximity — a place where visitors can experience an incredible range of experiences in one trip, even within one day.” Tourism is “the tip of the spear that ties directly into the factors that drive people to our state and into the labor force,” Caswell explained.

The state’s innovative marketing campaign still focuses on New England, but is reaching out to “own” Penn Station in Manhattan for the second year in a row. Other major metropolitan areas — Boston, Montreal and Toronto — plus smaller cities — Portland, Maine; Providence, R.I., and Hartford, Conn. — continue to be the focus. Travelers from abroad are a growing market segment.

Caswell noted that Gov. Chris Sununu had sought a fully funded budget for the BEA’s Division of Travel and Tourism: 3.1 percent of rooms and meals tax, but that that amount might not survive the legislative process, despite the favorable return on such an expenditure.

Charyl Reardon, who became president of the White Mountains Attractions Association about six months ago, pointed out that she represents the state’s official Destination Marketing Organization — directed by 17 major attractions — in a tourism region that includes Route 2 to Route 25 in Center Harbor to the state borders. Santa’s Village, Mt. Washington Auto Road, Cannon Mountain, Conway Scenic Railroad, and the Mt. Washington Cog Railway are all members.

“Some might expect the Attractions to be competitors, but they are colleagues who understand the importance of bringing visitors to the region together,” Reardon said. “They share the same goal and mission: to drive sustainable tourism growth and provide visitors to the state and our region with a memorable experience, so they return for generations."

She noted that the association’s marketing dollars had grown from several thousand dollars to just under $1 million through hard work, investment in both digital and traditional marketing channels and advertising partnerships.

Reardon described a number of substantial investments that Association members are making: a new interactive water play area at Santa’s Village; a 32,000 square foot Aquarium at Story Land, and a multi-phase plan at Loon Mountain Resort to build a network of some 15 miles of downhill mountain biking trails with chairlift service. In addition, both the towns of Littleton and Lincoln have embarked on multi-phase plans, designed to attract more outdoor enthusiasts.

Caswell introduced Jeff Cozzens, CEO and co-founder of Schilling Beer Co., who provided his perspective on the importance of tourism.

He briefly traced the growth of the Schilling brewery from when he founded it six years ago to craft beer with 15 employees in a converted 18th century three-story grist mill to today’s enterprise that includes a new riverside store and tasting room with far more seating.

Tourists are seeking authenticity, even though they may not fully understand that, Cozzens explained. “Littleton is one of the great mountain towns, with more heart, passion of any community I know,” he said. There are many who live here who are interested in working for the common good.”

Caswell said that there are many communities in New Hampshire with these same characteristics.

“Our communities are our strength,” he said, noting that this is at the heart of workforce recruitment. “As long as you like winter, there is a community that is right for you.”

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