CONWAY — According to a survey of businesses by the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Labor Day holiday weekend offered a strong end to the traditional summer season. But with closures well into June, the overall feeling was that numbers did not meet either the goals or the sales envisioned for this year.
In addition, there’s a clear consensus that a new visitor profile is developing.
Many local businesses conveyed that the holiday weekend was strong. “Labor Day was sold out all three nights, and revenue was up considerably,” reported Ellie Koeppel, owner and GM at The Wentworth Inn in Jackson.
Stephanie Orr, senior VP of marketing and sales at Red Jacket Resorts, said sales were up more than 60 percent over last year for the North Conway resort, citing the fantastic weather, pent-up demand,our reputation as a safe destination and later start to school as reasons for more bookings this year.
Christopher Bellis, co-owner of the Cranmore Inn, said this Labor Day was better than last year. "Occupancy was up 3.33 percent and revenue was up 30.8 percent with both weekends each year being sold out,” he said.
Jonathan Rivers, GM at Indian Mound Golf Club, also reported that business was up over last year. “We got rained out last year for Labor Day, but with perfect weather this year we were able to beat last year's numbers,” he said.
Story Land posted a sold-out weekend before closing, said Lauren Hawkins, Story Land’s director of marketing, though in 2019, "attendance for the weekend was stronger, with 2020 coming in 20 percent under due to capacity restrictions. Labor Day Monday in 2019 was a rainy day, which did impact attendance considerably while we had an absolutely perfect long weekend in 2020,” she said.
And Becca Deschenes, Cranmore Mountain Resort marketing director, said Labor Day weekend was right on par with their expectations. Ben Wilcox, GM at Cranmore, added, “The Mountain Bike Park had its biggest day of the summer on Sunday of Labor Day Weekend; we rented just about every bike we had. It was probably the best weekend of the summer.”
Looking back, nearly all businesses lost May and June revenues while struggling to reopen. Yet, with the pandemic, the valley experienced a change in its visitor profile. Older travelers stayed home, while families and younger travelers sought refuge in the White Mountain.
Lodging properties varied in their reports for July and August, with larger properties more likely to skew toward positive numbers.
Koeppel said July was up over last year by 25.1 percent and August up by 32.8 percent at The Wentworth.
Orr said that bookings have been up at the Red Jacket Mountain View Resort all summer, withleisure travel replacing group bookings, weddings and meetings from past years.
Yet Bellis shared that smaller B&B didn’t fare as well. “Overall our room nights were down a total of 32 percent in 2020 for July/August when compared to 2019. Revenues were down 27.5 percent in July/August which is better because we were seeing a great many weekend travelers but seeing less people traveling during the week,” he said.
He has maintained a collective lodging survey of valley properties. For July , occupancy dropped at reporting properties by 21.7 percent, with a loss per room of $262.06.
“If I extrapolate out the loss of $262.06 per room across the 4,400 rooms in the valley, that would be a loss of over $1.15 million in revenue," he said, adding that for comparative purposes, the overall loss in New Hampshire lodging for July year-over-year is $34.9 million.
Looking back at the summer at Story Land, Hawkins admitted that it was a challenging few months. However, "as our shortened season progressed, we saw attendance grow, and we finished the season with a sold out weekend. The overwhelming majority of our guests this season were very appreciative of our safety protocols, cleaning procedures and felt extremely safe at our park while having a great time with family and friends.
"Requiring facial coverings went well with very little issue, our guests adapted and had a blast,” said Hawkins.
While the new Living Shores Aquarium closed this spring and has not re-opened, the attraction’s Pasta Mia restaurant reopened when staff was eventually found. Hawkins said that the restaurant has done well throughout August and into September, with some new events coming this fall.
Deschenes concurred. “We were fortunate to be going into the summer season with the bike park — that fit in perfectly into our 2020 summer operations. The bike park met the original goals we had in place that were bike park specific, prior to COVID," she said.
"The adventure parks have been very popular, especially the rides (Mountain Coaster, Soaring Eagle, and giant swing), and it’s not uncommon that this part of our operation has been selling out,” Deschenes reported.
Dot Seybold, GM of Settlers Green, told the chamber that people have been shopping and buying this summer.
“However, the difficulty for some stores are that they can’t be for the open full hours due to staff shortages in the valley, while other stores are meeting last year’s numbers for the summer. The stores catering to younger visitors have done extremely well this summer,” Seybold said.
Looking toward fall, businesses expect to see a different crowd. The time that motorcoach tours and international visitors typically fill lodging rooms, eateries and attractions this fall season is expected to be packed with drive-in visitors.
One thing is certain. Mother Nature never disappoints, and those who visit this fall will be treated to beautiful color in the White Mountains, recently chosen among the top five fall foliage destinations in the country by USA Today’s 10Best.
For more information on visiting Mt Washington Valley, NH and complete trip planning resources, go to www.MtWashingtonValley.org or call 800-367-3364.