It was a good summer for some Maine businesses that rely on tourist dollars, but not so great for others that saw foot traffic diminish amid too many rainy weekends.
Still, restaurant sales averaged $429 million per month in June, July and August – a 4.9% increase over the summer-month average in 2022, Maine Revenue Services reports. The $302 million monthly average for lodging sales during the same period increased a more modest 1.9% year over year.
Meanwhile, the state is seeing a trend toward fewer day trippers, while people who choose to vacation here are staying longer, according to a new report from the Maine Office of Tourism.
The 2023 Summer Visitor Tracking Report shows the number of individual visitors fell 6.3% to 8.5 million May through August. However, the number of days visitors spent in Maine during that period increased 8.1% to 42.4 million, and the number of nights booked in Maine hotels, motels, inns and short-term rentals was up 1% to 5.5 million.
Overall visitor spending also increased an estimated 1% to nearly $5.2 billion in direct tourism dollars, according to the report, which was prepared by Downs & St. Germain Research of Tallahassee, Florida.
“Despite initial concerns that tourism would be adversely impacted by the significant rainfall in June and July, our research indicates that the summer season was overall a good one,” said Steve Lyons, director of the state’s tourism office. “It speaks to the resilience of our tourism industry and Maine’s popularity and appeal as a desired destination.”
Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth was near capacity all summer, with multigenerational travelers flying in from Europe, the South and the West, as well as guests who drove from across New England, said Michael Briggs, managing director of the inn.
The inn had a strong summer, Briggs said, but it was more of a return to the pre-pandemic 2019 season than a repeat of the post-pandemic surge from 2022. Guests at the 62-room inn found plenty to do at the beach, pool and local attractions, despite more rain than usual, he said.
“Although this summer may not have reached the record-breaking heights of 2022, it still stands as a testament to the state’s enduring appeal,” Briggs said.
The trend of fewer individual visitors staying longer began in the summer of 2022, when the industry bounced back strong from the pandemic shutdown, Lyons said.
Maine continues to attract both new and loyal repeat visitors, with 22% of visitors coming to Maine for the first time, and 37% having visited more than 10 times, according to the 2023 visitor tracking report. And Mainers make up 12% of the state’s tourist market.
The Chadwick, a bed-and-breakfast in Portland’s historic West End, was busy as usual through the summer catering to guests from all over the world, owner and innkeeper Erin Abraham said.
“The summer was very busy, but with only four rooms, we’re typically full through the summer months,” Abraham said. “We had an open room here and there, but for the most part, we were booked solid, and we did see people booking many months ahead.”
Despite the uptick in booking nights from May through August, the lodging occupancy rate fell four points to 64.8%, the average daily room rate fell 1.8% to $231.45, and the revenue per available room fell 5.8% to $150.09, the visitor tracking report found.
And while state revenue reports show increases in restaurant and lodging sales, some of that may be attributed to the need to raise prices to cover rising costs for food, utilities and other operating expenses, said Becky Jacobson, executive director of HospitalityMaine, which represents the lodging, restaurant and hospitality industries.
“Many restaurants and lodging establishments reported weak early to mid-summer results, due primarily to the wet summer,” Jacobson said. “And unfortunately, the early fall has seen a string of wet weekends as well.”
Most operators have reported that summer of 2023 was good, if not as strong as 2022, Jacobson said. However, some establishments closed because summer sales weren’t strong enough to overcome operating cost increases, labor challenges and other issues, including the weather.
Amour World Market, a specialty wine and food shop on Market Street in Augusta, closed this month, succumbing to a variety of challenges, including street construction, lack of parking and a rainy summer.
“We had rain every weekend except for three all summer long,” read a post on the shop’s Facebook page. “Rain kept both locals and visitors from exploring and walking around. Rain kept day tourism from visiting, particularly during the week. Without traffic you do not have customers and without customers you cannot survive.”
However, traffic from June through August on the Maine Turnpike increased 4.9% or 1.3 million transactions, from 26.4 million in 2022 to 27.7 million this year, according to the Maine Turnpike Authority. Year to date, turnpike traffic is up nearly 1% over 2019, the toll highway’s pre-pandemic record year, with 77.6 million transactions so far in 2023, compared to 76.9 transactions in the same period four years ago.
And traffic at Maine Visitor Information Centers is up 10% this year compared to 2022, said Tony Cameron, CEO of the Maine Tourism Association, which is contracted by the Maine Office of Tourism to run seven centers around the state.
Cameron said rainy weather proved detrimental to some operators, reducing the number of day trippers and weekend visitors, but it boosted numbers for indoor attractions, such as museums and galleries.
“The summer season was kind of a mixed bag,” he said. “Overall it was a decent year, but we didn’t break any records.”