Preparing for a deluge, hoping for the best
Storm clouds end of relatively bright tourist season
As Hurricane Earl bears down on Cape Cod and the islands on one of the busiest weekends of the summer, local tour operators are gearing up for what could be a disappointing end to a bright tourist season.
But with the worst of the storm expected to pass by tomorrow afternoon and sunny skies forecast for Sunday and Monday, business owners are hopeful that the majority of the weekend won’t be lost.
“It’s sort of like a bad movie,’’ said Dan Wolf, president and founder of Cape Air and Nantucket Airlines, which is canceling about 250 flights starting this afternoon and moving 30 planes to Albany, N.Y. “You pick the worst weekend of the year to have this happen and the worst day, which is Friday.’’
For hotel owners, the hurricane hasn’t caused mass cancellations, but it has made some people nervous. Jeff Popkin of Needham ditched his reservations on the high-speed ferry from Hyannis to Nantucket, as well as his Friday and Saturday night reservations at Nantucket Inn. “It doesn’t sound like the safest place to be this weekend,’’ he said.
The Nantucket Inn is still sold out, to general manager Scott Thomas’s surprise, partly due to the utility repair crews and media moving in to cover the hurricane. The summer season hasn’t been record-breaking, Thomas said, but it has been an improvement, and he was hoping to add to it before rain and 80-mile-an-hour gusts were forecast for tonight.
“Why would you want to come and sit in your room in the rain in the dark?’’ he said.
Despite an unsettling end to the summer, overall it has been a better season than last year, with a slowly rebounding economy and hot, dry weather driving up hotel occupancy 10 percent in June and July around the state.
“That means that Massachusetts is almost back to where it was’’ before the recession, said Betsy Wall, executive director of the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism. “In our industry, that’s a headline.’’
On Martha’s Vineyard, restaurants and shops are still feeling the pinch, said Nancy Gardella, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, but on the whole, this summer has been much better than last.
“We’ve entered into the new normal, so it’s no longer comparing to five years ago, it’s comparing to last year,’’ she said. “And compared to last year, people are breathing a lot easier.’’
But business owners weren’t breathing very easy as they prepared for today’s deluge. Workers at the Chatham Bars Inn battened down the hatches, moving the patio furniture inside and taking down the awnings. General manager Paul Zuest, who said this has been the inn’s best summer ever, took the storm — and the handful of cancellations it caused — in stride.
“Seeing as the place has been around since 1914, we’re not going to blow away,’’ he said.
The fact that not many people are canceling didn’t surprise Wendy Northcross of the Cape Cod Chamber. “Our Labor Day travelers tend to not be coming from very far away,’’ she said. “They’re used to this kind of thing.’’
This isn’t the first time the state has been pummeled by a Labor Day weekend storm — Hurricane Edouard lashed the coast 14 years ago — and local businesses know it pays to be proactive. Catania Hospitality Group, whose three Cape and South Shore hotels had a 10 percent bump in occupancy in July and August over last summer, is offering families who book two nights this weekend a free night in the future at the John Carver Inn & Spa in Plymouth or the Cape Codder Resort & Spa in Hyannis if the hurricane affects in either community. Catania is also keeping the Orleans Hearth ‘n Kettle restaurant open 24 hours a day over the weekend to accommodate electrical crews and others who need a place to weather the storm.
“It would hurt a big weekend for us,’’ said Bill Catania, president of Catania Hospitality Group.
Catania isn’t the only business offering hurricane-related deals. The Back Bay Hotel in Boston is letting the first 50 guests who book a room for tonight pay according to the wind speed; the price will be the highest wind speed between Friday at 3 p.m. and Saturday at noon. If they stay an additional night, the price is $175 a night — a $100 savings.
“We want high winds,’’ joked Jay Gilman, director of sales and marketing, who said that the hotel hadn’t had any hurricane-related cancelations but that the Friday before Labor Day is typically quiet.
Meanwhile, some places are shutting down. The state Department of Conservation and Recreation closed eight campgrounds last night and tonight, including Boston Harbor Islands National Park, Nickerson State Park in Brewster, Myles Standish State Forest in South Carver, and Shawme-Crowell State Forest in Sandwich. The DCR also closed Boston pools and several beaches today.
And while some destinations brace for the worst, others may get a bump from people fleeing. Needham’s Jeff Popkin and his wife were thinking of heading to Western Massachusetts after canceling their trip to Nantucket. As Berkshires Visitors Bureau chief executive Lauri Klefos pointed out: “It’s going to be a beautiful weekend in the Berkshires.’’
Katie Johnston Chase can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.