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New Hampshire

Seacoast communities remain optimistic as economy flags

By Tom Long
Globe Correspondent / May 3, 2009
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The pamphlets are lined up at the tourist information booths in Hampton and Portsmouth. Fried dough and pizza booths at Hampton Beach are being whitewashed and aired out and the clam shacks and seasonal restaurants along routes 1 and 1A are preparing to reopen.

New Hampshire's 18-mile seacoast is getting ready for the summer season. Though officials report no special preparations for the tough economy, if you had to use one word to describe the mood as the season approaches, it would be hopeful.

"We hope people stick close to home, because traditionally that is good news for seacoast businesses that rely on tourists," said Tai Freligh, a spokesman for the New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism Development.

Doc Noel, president of the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce, hopes the weather is good. "Nothing is more important to the tourism industry than good weather," he said.

"Everyone remains hopeful that we'll bring in more visitors than last year," said Nicki Noble, tourism manager for the Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce.

Though officials remain optimistic, it's difficult to determine how many visitors to expect

Freligh said studies conducted for the state predict 12 million tourist visits this year, 40 percent of them during the summer. But figures are not prepared for the seacoast alone.

"As the economy has tightened up, the trend for the last couple of years is for tourists to travel shorter distances," said Freligh. "People are forgoing the plane trips and staying closer to home. That means people would rather drive up from Boston than take a longer trip. We think that means more visitors to the seacoast area."

Noel said Hampton Beach might have as many as 150,000 visitors on a sunny Saturday. "I don't think the recession will affect us at all," he said "We're much more dependent on the weather than we are on the economy. We are very dependent on the day tripper. If the sun is out, people will make the drive from Boston, Lowell, and Lawrence. If the sun isn't shining, they do not."

Noel said if the weather is bad during July Fourth or Labor Day weekends, it can have a big effect on the local economy.

"If it rains, you're talking about several hundred thousand people not making a visit. It can take weeks to make up that kind of money, that is, if it is made up at all."

At the Prescott Park Arts Festival in Portsmouth, a record 18 events were rained out last year.

Noble said this year the arts festival will be partnering with the Seacoast Repertory Theater for a series of performances to defray expenses.

But she said for the most par,t tourism businesses in Portsmouth are less dependent on the weather.

"We're a cultural center. A lot of hotels in the area have offered discounts for restaurants, boat trips, and other activities to help defray the costs of a visit," she said. "If the number of phone calls for information is any indication, we're going to have a good year. All the preparations have been made and we're hoping for the best."