The summer tourist season thus far has been a story of contrasts — a slow start followed by a blazing-hot second half.
Lodging businesses experienced a slow May due largely to poor weather, said Greg Dugal, the executive director of both the Maine Innkeepers Association and the Maine Restaurant Association. The weekends in June were great, but the weekdays were as bad as they could get, he said.
That trend continued until July 21 when Dugal said it has “been as busy as I’ve ever seen it.”
Connie Russell, the general manager of the Samoset Resort in Rockport, said the resort has been fortunate in that it has had a lot of conferences held there during the weekdays starting in May. He said conferences are booked one to two years in advance, and the resort is assured of guests arriving.
He agreed with Dugal’s assessment of the second half of the summer being very busy. That is expected to extend into the fall based on advanced bookings, he said.
“This has been a successful 2014,” Russell said, adding that it has been the best year since before the Great Recession struck at the end of 2007.
The resort employs more than 300 people.
Stephen Jones, owner of the Lucerne Inn, said this has been a great year for business, up 12 percent from a year ago.
“It’s certainly not back to the numbers of 2007 or before, but it is certainly trending up,” Jones said.
Acadia National Park Acting Deputy Superintendent David Manski said visitations to the park through the end of July were up 4.6 percent from last year. He said August has also been very busy at the park. Ridership on the bus has increased 15 percent from last year.
Passenger traffic on the Maine Turnpike was up nearly 3 percent in July compared to 2013, according to the Maine Turnpike Authority. Commercial traffic was up slightly more than 2 percent. Through the first three weeks of August, traffic was up more than 2 percent from a year ago.
AAA Travel said in a news release issued last week that it expects nearly 35 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more during the Labor Day holiday weekend, the highest volume for the holiday since 2008 and a 1.3 percent increase over 2013.
Retail sales figures compiled by the Maine Bureau of Revenue Services support the assessments of a better summer.
In June, retail sales statewide totaled nearly $1.86 billion — a record for the month. This is an increase of 3.5 percent from the nearly $1.8 billion in sales made in June 2013. Last year saw sales slightly surpass the previous June record of $1.78 million set in 2007.
The increase in June followed 3 percent increases in both May and April compared to a year ago, according to the state figures.
Restaurant sales in June statewide accounted for $229 million of the total retail sales, while lodging added another $92 million. July, August and September are typically the months with the greatest retail sales, while January and February have the least business.
Dugal said lodging revenues rose early in the summer mainly due to rate increases, but he expects the increase will be more when coupled with the greater occupancy in late summer.
In communities more dependent on tourism for their economies, the difference between summer and winter seasons are far more extreme. In Bar Harbor, for instance, total retail sales ranged from a low of $4.2 million in February last year to a high of $59 million in August. In Camden, total retail sales last year ranged from a low of $6.3 million in February to a high of $24.8 million in August.
Statewide, the swing is much less on a percentage basis. Total retail sales last year went from a low of less than $1.1 billion in February to nearly $1.9 billion in August.