Thursday, June 27, 2002

Tourism season off to strong start

Published in the Current

Southern Maine tourism operators are expecting to do at least as well as last year, and numbers are already up.

Fred Kilfoil, owner of the Millbrook Motel, said his bookings from January through April were higher than last year, in keeping with his upward trend over the past four years.

His May numbers continued the trend, ending up, he said, “way ahead of previous Mays.”

“I’m expecting it to be as good as any other year and probably better than most,” Kilfoil said.

But the foundation is still a bit shaky. “A bomb in India or something may change that,” he said.

Maureen McQuade, innkeeper of Cape Elizabeth’s Inn By the Sea and vice-president of the Maine Innkeepers Association, said a new state tourism ad campaign is working. “The state of Maine has been doing some outstanding advertising,” she said.

The promotions, she said, began in September and have continued to target people who can drive to Maine.

But, McQuade added, in-state traffic is up, too. “We’ve had a lot more Maine people traveling,” she said.

Bob Westburg, owner of the Higgins Beach Inn, said most of his weekends are full through the season.

“The bookings are coming on solid,” he said. “It looks like it’s booking up pretty good.”

He said he needs mid-week bookings to fill in a bit more, but expects that to occur.

Many Scarborough businesses look to Old Orchard Beach for indications of how the season will go. Bud Hamm, executive director of the OOB Chamber of Commerce, said he expects a strong season.

The inquiries and advance bookings at Hamm’s office, he said, were high even by late April.

“This year, so far, it’s looking the same if not better,” Hamm said, adding that it could be “another banner year. ”

Visitors to the area, mostly from New England, mid-Atlantic states and Canada, are arriving somewhat later this year than they have in the past, but the numbers are up, Hamm said.

“They’re not booking as far ahead as they used to,” McQuade said.

“Our pre-bookings are a little ahead of last year,” said Dick Schwalbenberg, innkeeper at the Black Point Inn. But he is optimistic.

“It does really look to be a strong season all over,” he said.

Some Maine inns and tourism destinations have had trouble hiring help from overseas this year, as a result of new government scrutiny of short-term visa applicants. McQuade has avoided this by hiring locally.

“We have a lot of local people that we hire and college kids that come back year after year,” she said. Her inn has had good response to its help-wanted ads, as well, with larger numbers of well-qualified people applying.

Schwalbenberg has also avoided government delays, by filing paperwork as early as possible for the 18 foreign workers he has hired. “Our employees actually arrived when they said they would,” he said.

But even if workers leave, visitor numbers fall apart and the weather turns foul, all is not lost on the coast of Maine.

“Even the bad summers are good,” said motel owner Kilfoil.