BARTLETT, N.H. — Despite rising gas prices, New Hampshire tourism officials are forecasting an increase in visitors and spending this summer over last year.
Lori Harnois, director of the state’s Division of Travel and Tourism, said revenue from the rooms and meals tax is up 2.6 percent. She spoke Thursday at the annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism held at the Attitash Grand Summit Hotel in Bartlett.
Even with the good outlook, though, the state tourism division is starting a television and website “Tank of Gas” campaign later this month to show residents how much traveling they can do in their own back yard. And as part of the division’s summer “Dream Vacation” contest, a $50 gas card prize will be offered each week for the best travel photo or video taken in the state.
“We’re still predicting a strong summer season,” Harnois said.
Janice Crawford, president of the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce, said Massachusetts accounts for one of the biggest summer markets in New Hampshire. “I don’t see $50 or $100 getting in the way of them getting here,” she said about added fuel costs. She said visitors may change their activities, such as opting for a hike or picnic instead of spending money on tickets for an event. They may also stay a few days, as opposed to a week, she said.
Crawford said in the past, she has seen some lodging businesses offer packages with gas-related promotions, but she has not seen any this year.
Dan Houde, marketing director for Purity Spring Resort in East Madison, near the Maine state line, said his concern is getting word out to potential visitors that the resort offers an all-inclusive package with such activities as kayaking and canoeing and weekly lobster bakes. Visitors can park their car and stay in one place. So far, he said, bookings for the summer are averaging what they’ve been for the last few years.
Tourism is one of the state’s largest industries. Direct spending by visitors to New Hampshire last year reached $4 billion, and visitors paid $132.2 million in meals and room taxes. Tourism supported about 60,500 jobs.
Harnois said the division is focusing on marketing the state to residents in New York and Pennsylvania. She said starting Monday, television ads promoting New Hampshire’s “three great playgrounds” — mountains, lakes and seacoast — will be shown in New York. She said a consumer study done last year showed that residents in these states know New Hampshire for its scenic drives and leaf viewing in the fall. But they associate it less with arts and culture, fine dining and a nightlife. Those are areas she hopes to address in a new marketing campaign to be readied for next spring.
One age group to target would be younger travelers, Harnois told tourism representatives at the conference. She said she recently was on a whitewater rafting trip in New England and saw one 16-year-old girl with her family who said she didn’t want to do the activity; she wanted to go on Facebook, instead.
“We really need to talk about how we can encourage the younger generation,” Harnois said.
The 35th annual conference featured keynote speaker Samantha Brown, host of travel-related series on television including “Samantha Brown Great Weekends.”