Tourist spots look to Labor Day for help after Irene

Posted Aug. 31, 2011, at 5:02 a.m.

DENNISPORT, Mass. — Hurricane Irene severed the main traffic artery of North Carolina’s Hatteras Island. It drove people from the Jersey Shore. And it cost businesses in Cape Cod $35 million, said Wendy Norcross, executive director of the local Chamber of Commerce.

When Irene hit Aug. 27, the storm forced vacationers to flee some of the East Coast’s most popular spots. Now, officials and business owners hope Labor Day weekend will revive their fortunes.

Angelo Argyriadis, owner of the Kream ‘N’ Kone restaurant in Dennisport, said his business was off 60 percent on the weekend of Irene and he’s concerned about summer’s final week.

“It’ll be quieter than it normally would have been,” said Argyriadis, 50. “Everybody in the hospitality business will be hurt and that has a ripple effect.”

Tourists spend about $1 billion a year on Cape Cod and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, Norcross said. Half that comes in June, July and August. The biggest challenge post- Irene will be luring people dealing with power outages and damage who live off the cape, she said.

“Our core markets are Boston and Worcester in Massachusetts; Hartford, Connecticut; New York City and New Jersey, and those people are in recovery mode,” she said.

Hotel occupancy was down 70 percent the weekend Irene hit, Norcross said.

“We are working to try to rescue some of the Labor Day weekend,” she said.

Efforts will include online banner advertising and posting images of the sunny weather on the chamber’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

On Long Beach Island, N.J., Rick Reynolds, head of the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce, estimated about $4 million to $5 million in lost sales. The 18-mile barrier island has a year-round population of about 7,500 that may hit 250,000 on busy weekends, Reynolds said.

“Take 175,000 people off of Long Beach Island and anyone can extrapolate the lost sales,” he said.

In 2010, hotels in areas hit by Irene made millions of dollars in the 10 days leading up to and including Labor Day, according to data from STR Global, based in Hendersonville, Tenn.

New York City hotels received $169 million in revenue during that period last year, while Long Island hotels took in $13.2 million. New Jersey hotels got $35.7 million, Virginia Beach hotels $10 million and Ocean City, Maryland, hotels another $9.6 million. Coastal North Carolina took in $3.9 million.

In swamped Vermont, where President Barack Obama declared a disaster, fall foliage tourism season is still a month away, said Joe McInerney, president and CEO of the Washington-based American Hotel and Lodging Association. Losses in coastal areas, McInerney said, were offset in part in New York City, where “people couldn’t get out, so they were staying in hotels in the city.”

North Carolina’s Outer Banks absorbed the storm’s brunt. There are four “rather significant breaches” of North Carolina 12 that isolate the beach-house-lined barrier island, Greer Beaty, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Transportation, said in a telephone interview from Raleigh.

“It’s not going to be a quick fix,” he said.

It had been a good season, said Lee Nettles, managing director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau in Manteo. Occupancy of rental homes that compose about 80 percent of the business was up 7 percent through June compared with the same period last year, he said.

“We’ll get through it, just like we have before,” he said.

Not everyone believes Labor Day tourism will be back, particularly in the Outer Banks.

“This means the end of the season for everyone,” said Avon Lake resident Brad Doerr, 41, who owns two Dairy Queen franchises, said in an interview.

Irvin Midgett, of Rodanthe, said Irene pushed an 8-foot tide through his 6-acre campground, destroying 60 campsites with trailers left behind by tenants and ruining almost everything Midgett owns.

“I’ve been building this place by hand for 15 years,” Midgett, 54, said Aug. 28. “I’ve lost my house, my barn, everything. And when the phones start working again and my tenants start calling, I’ll have to tell them their stuff is destroyed too.”

Tourism officials in other areas said they expected to return to business quickly.

Ocean City, Md., was little harmed and officials were working to get the word out to would-be tourists. About 150,000 to 200,000 people were evacuated ahead of the storm.

Jay Knerr, 54, the owner of the Kite Loft on the boardwalk, said that by mid-morning yesterday people were sunning themselves.

“Nobody likes to lose money, but it’s an easy thing to recover from,” he said.

At the Bass River Sports World in Yarmouth, Mass., the batting cages were empty and the miniature golf course had about a dozen players Monday morning. Cashier Bill Parkins, 79, said he was hopeful things would turn around.

“We’re a little slow but the jury is still out,” he said. “We’re having beautiful weather and that can change everything around.”

Contributors: William Selway in Washington, Stephen Merelman in New York, Terrence Dopp in Trenton, N.J., Ted Richardson in Rodanthe, N.C., and Mark Niquette in Columbus.

Similar articles:

ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business
ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business